Saudi soccer influence grows by winning seat on FIFA Council
Saudi Arabia added to its influence in world soccer on Wednesday, winning a seat on the FIFA Council and then being confirmed as host of the 2027 Asian Cup.
The election win at the Asian Football Confederation’s annual meeting followed Cristiano Ronaldo arrival last month to play in the Saudi league and longstanding speculation about a likely bid to host the World Cup in 2030 or 2034.
Saudi soccer federation president Yasser Almisehal was among six Asian soccer officials elected by AFC members to represent them on FIFA’s decision-making committee through 2027. Saudi Arabia was the only candidate to host the Asian championship.
Qatari soccer federation president Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, whose country hosts the next Asian Cup in January 2024, also was elected to the FIFA Council. Sheikh Hamad earned 40 votes from the 45 federations, while Almisehal got 35.
The 37-member FIFA Council is chaired by Gianni Infantino, the governing body’s president who attended the election meeting in Bahrain.
The election results confirmed Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the heart of Asian soccer politics with the AFC presidency scheduled to be vacant in 2027.
AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain was reelected by acclamation Wednesday to a final four-year term in a job he has held since 2013. He is also formally No. 2 to Infantino as the most senior of FIFA’s eight vice presidents.
FIFA Council positions — which pay a $250,000 salary in Zurich — were also won by Kohzo Tashima of Japan and Mariano Araneta of the Philippines, who retained their seats, and newcomer Hamidin Bin Mohd Amin, the Malaysian soccer federation leader.
Losing candidates were Du Zhaocai of China and Chung Mong-Gyu of South Korea, a scion of the family that owns Hyundai and who lost his seat in 2019.
The election for a FIFA Council seat protected for a woman was won by Kanya Keomany of Laos.
Later in the meeting, the Saudi bid to host the 2027 Asian Cup was confirmed unopposed. India withdrew its bid in December.
Presenting the bid on stage, Saudi sports minister Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal called the 2027 tournament “a transformational moment in our collective football story.”
Saudi Arabia is a three-time champion of the Asian Cup, in 1984, 1988 and 1996, but has never hosted the tournament.
The kingdom raised its soccer profile when Ronaldo signed a 2 1/2-year deal with Al Nassr, and has been speculatively linked with a three-continent co-hosting bid to host the 2030 World Cup with Egypt from Africa and Greece from Europe.
That would require sending the tournament back to Asia and the Arabian Gulf only eight years after Qatar hosted the 2022 edition. A 2034 bid could be more realistic.
FIFA is expected to let more than 200 member federations choose the 2030 host next year.
Spain and Portugal, currently with Ukraine also, are planning a European bid for the 2030 World Cup, while a four-nation South American bid that brings together Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, the inaugural host 100 years earlier in 1930, is also expected.
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