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Widespread concern over FIFA’s World Cup host selections

The choice of hosts for the 2030 and 2034 FIFA World Cup pose a number of potential issues and areas of worry and controversy.

FIFA has announced the hosts for the 2030 and the 2034 World Cup after mass speculation among fans. The 2030 World Cup will see something that has never happened before: a World Cup across multiple continents. The tournament will be hosted jointly by Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Meanwhile, the honour of hosting the 2034 World Cup has gone to Saudi Arabia, as expected by many.

The announcement of the 2030 World Cup has divided opinion among fans. The bidding process for the World Cup started earlier last year. Since the 2022 World Cup was held in Qatar, a member of the Asian Football Association (AFC), and the 2026 World Cup is to be hosted in Canada, the USA and Mexico, members of the North American CONCACAF, these federations could not have hosted the 2030 World Cup.

Among the major bids for the 2030 World Cup were a joint bid from Spain, Morocco and Portugal and a separate joint bid involving Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Since the World Cup began in 1930 with Uruguay hosting the maiden tournament, a lot of sentimental support lied with Uruguay given the significance of this particular instalment, that being the centenary celebration of the World Cup.

According to the format announced by Fifa on 4 October, in an ode to the competition’s South American heritage, the first three games will be held in Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay. Following months of negotiations between UEFA and the federations of South America and Africa, who presented their proposal to Fifa, the sides agreed to avoid a lengthy and costly bidding procedure.

All six host countries will automatically qualify for the 48-team tournament, with South America’s allocation reduced from their usual six automatic qualification positions and one playoff berth.

The idea of 48 teams playing across continents which are separated by thousands of miles has generated significant concern among the public and experts across a multitude of domains.

Football fans have been quick to point out the massive disadvantage the teams that play their opening games in South America will face. A flight from Argentina, Uruguay or Paraguay to either of the remaining nations will take about 12 hours. In a tournament as important as the World Cup, teams would want to keep their fatigue to a minimum, as such long-haul transatlantic flights are certainly not helpful.

Historically, whenever the World Cup has been held in multiple nations, it has always been held in one or two neighbouring countries. The 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea for example, was certainly more of a success due to the small distance teams were travelling. The recent Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand followed the same tried and trusted approach.

Match scheduling with six host nations risks being an unmitigated disaster. The time difference between South America and Western Europe is approximately 5-6 hours. This could easily cause opening matches to start later than timetabled. It’s unclear how Fifa will try to schedule this, but it’s crucial a solution is found.

Sticking to the subject of the long-haul flights, environmentalists have expressed their discontent over the announced plan. This is despite Fifa explicitly claiming that the environmental impact of the tournament is something they considered before making a decision.

“For 101 games, the tournament will be played in a footprint of neighbouring countries. Three games will take place in South America, also in neighbouring countries in close geographic proximity to mark the 100th year of the tournament, in a unique celebration. Fifa will take all required measures to mitigate the environmental impact. From a sustainability point of view, it’s also worth mentioning that only one bid significantly reduces travel in relation to site inspection visits and other meetings,” Fifa said.

Fifa’s claims have failed to generate much confidence among people. The statement comes after the Swiss Fairness Commission (SLK), the self-regulatory body of the Swiss communications sector, refuted Fifa’s statement on the 2022 Qatar World Cup being carbon neutral. “Fifa was not able to provide proof that the claims were accurate during the proceedings,” the SLK said earlier this year.

Fifa has already been under serious fire over allegations of corruption. Former Fifa President, Sepp Blatter, resigned from his position after receiving several accusations of bribery over the decision to grant Qatar the World Cup. Before the World Cup, he confessed it was a “mistake” to give Qatar the opportunity to host.

Fifa also previously stated that the 2034 World Cup would be held in Asia or Oceania, with an Australian bid seen as the only prospective rival to Saudi Arabia, which confirmed its intention to bid shortly after Fifa’s announcement.

According to a Daily Mail report that was released before the announcement of the 2034 World Cup host, the World Cup was given to 6 nations so that the 2034 World Cup could be hosted by Saudi Arabia.The report, citing anonymous sources, stated: “A Saudi World Cup in 2034 isn’t just likely, it’s basically a done deal. Money has talked again, and the event will be worth billions in new cash for Fifa.”

Saudi Arabia’s World Cup bid and why it is controversial is a separate can of worms in itself. Corruption, a dodgy human rights record, and their stances on women’s rights, homosexuality and free speech, are only some of the topics of contention.

Fifa has to seriously think about course correction for its image, which has been demolished due to constant allegations. The recent announcements haven’t been of any aid and the tarnished image will remain as such until Fifa takes some concrete action over the very real concerns fans and experts have. The centenary of the World Cup deserves better and so does the sport as a whole.

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