2030 men's World Cup will be in 6 countries on 3 continents; Saudi Arabia frontrunner for 2034

FIFA president Gianni Infantino gestures as he holds the football World Cup trophy during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos on May 23, 2022. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
FIFA president Gianni Infantino gestures as he holds the football World Cup trophy during the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on May 23, 2022. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI/AFP)

The 2030 men's World Cup will spread across six different countries and three continents, and will largely be hosted by Spain, Portugal and Morocco.

Three opening games will be staged in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay to mark the 100-year anniversary of the World Cup, which was first held in 1930 in Montevideo, Uruguay. But the tournament will then move entirely to the Iberian peninsula and Morocco.

FIFA, global soccer's governing body, brokered an agreement between all six countries and announced the hosting arrangement shortly after its ruling council met Wednesday. And in doing so, it all but handed the 2034 men's World Cup to Saudi Arabia.

The 2030 World Cup agreement

The 2030 hosts had previously been members of rival bids. Spain and Portugal joined forces way back in 2020, then welcomed Morocco — which had previously planned to bid on its own — to form the first multi-continental bid in World Cup history earlier this year. Separately, the three South American nations, plus Chile, had long planned to push for a centennial World Cup.

The South American bid was the sentimental favorite. The Iberian-Morocco bid, though, seemed to be the political and economic favorite. So, rather than trudge through an uphill bidding process, the South Americans jumped at a compromise.

They'll be involved. The World Cup opener will be at the aptly named Estadio Centenario in Montevideo. Uruguay's capital will also host a "unique centenary celebration ceremony," FIFA said.

But the bulk of hosting responsibilities will then fall on Spain and two first-time hosts, Portugal and Morocco. (Morocco will be the first North African country to stage the tournament. It had previously bid unsuccessfully five times, and lost out to the U.S., Canada and Mexico for 2026.)

2034 World Cup likely heading to Saudi Arabia

FIFA officials, led by president Gianni Infantino, also decided Wednesday that only countries from the Asia and Oceania confederations will be allowed to bid for the 2034 men's World Cup — because all other confederations (CONCACAF, South America, Europe and Africa) will have technically hosted in 2026 and 2030.

That decision conveniently opened a door to Saudi Arabia, which, in due course, confirmed its intention to bid for 2034.

Shortly thereafter, the Asian Football Confederation endorsed the Saudi bid. "The entire Asian football family will stand united in support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s momentous initiative, and we are committed to working closely with the global football family to ensure its success," the AFC's Bahraini president, Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, said in a statement.

FIFA also set Oct. 31, 2023, as a sudden deadline for countries to officially express their interest in bidding — which usually requires months, if not years, of planning. They then must sign a "bidding agreement" by Nov. 30.

So, in effect, FIFA and the AFC have ruled out all realistic competitors for 2034; and the World Cup, barring something unforeseen, will return to the Persian Gulf 12 years after Qatar. (It also might require another calendar disruption;

FIFA, meanwhile, has not advanced past the early stages of deciding on a 2027 women's World Cup host. That decision is scheduled to be made by a membership vote in May 2024.