Human Rights Watch has called on FIFA to delay the process for awarding the 2034 World Cup, for which Saudi Arabia is the clear frontrunner ©Getty Images

FIFA has been accused by Human Rights Watch of ignoring its own rules through its process for awarding the 2030 and 2034 men's World Cup, which has made Saudi Arabia the heavy favourite for the latter edition.

Spain, Portugal and Morocco effectively secured hosting rights for the centennial FIFA World Cup in 2030 after a surprise announcement it had been approved as the sole candidate by the FIFA Council, thus requiring just the formalities of a successful bidding process and ratification by next year's Congress.

The plan controversially includes special one-off matches in the South American nations of Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay.

FIFA additionally set a tight deadline of October 31 for countries to register interest in the 2034 World Cup, and ruled it can only be held in Asia or Oceania.

Saudi Arabia promptly declared its intention to bid and received backing from the Asian Football Confederation, with an Australian-led project viewed as the only potential challenge but unlikely to muster sufficient support.

Human Rights Watch alleged the process breached the May 2017 version of FIFA's Human Rights Policy, pointing to Article Seven which states "where the national context risks undermining FIFA’s ability to ensure respect for internationally recognised human rights, FIFA will constructively engage with the relevant authorities and other stakeholders and make every effort to uphold its international human rights responsibilities".

The non-Governmental organisational additionally pointed to the Key Principles of the Reformed Bidding Process published for the 2026 edition awarded to the United States, Mexico and Canada, in which FIFA President Gianni Infantino and secretary general Fatma Samoura wrote the host must "formally commit to conducting their activities based on sustainable event management principles and to respecting international human rights and labour standards according to the United Nations' Guiding Principles".

It said an "unreasonably tight" deadline had been set for the 2034 World Cup, and it had "so far failed to apply these principles in the award of the 2030 and 2034 World Cups".

Human Rights Watch also drew a contrast to the double award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively back in 2010, widely viewed as contributing to the downfall of disgraced former FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

Saudi Arabia is the strong favourite for the 2034 FIFA World Cup given the tight deadline for any challengers ©Getty Images
Saudi Arabia is the strong favourite for the 2034 FIFA World Cup given the tight deadline for any challengers ©Getty Images

The vote on host nation was then decided by the former FIFA Executive Committee, but this shifted to a Congressional vote for the 2026 edition.

Human Rights Watch director of global initiatives Minky Worden called on FIFA in to delay its process for the 2034 edition.

"FIFA is failing in its responsibility to the world of football to conduct World Cup bidding and selection procedures in an ethical, transparent, objective, and unbiased way," Worden said.

"If there’s to be any integrity in what remains of this process, FIFA needs to immediately delay and open the bidding process for the 2034 World Cup, make public its labour, human rights, and environment policies, and then make sure protections are fully carried out."

She added a potential World Cup in Saudi Arabia "exposes FIFA’s commitments to human rights as a sham".

insidethegames has asked FIFA for a comment.

A World Cup in Saudi Arabia would prove highly controversial.

The authoritarian Mohammed bin Salman regime has faced vociferous accusations of attempting to "sportswash" its human rights record, but the Crown Prince last month said he doesn't care about any such criticisms.

The Saudi regime of Mohammed bin Salman, right, has faced heavy criticisms over its human rights record ©Getty Images
The Saudi regime of Mohammed bin Salman, right, has faced heavy criticisms over its human rights record ©Getty Images

Homosexuality and same-sex marriage are both outlawed according to Saudi Arabia's uncodified Islamic law, and its record on women's rights continues to be heavily criticised.

Free speech is also heavily restricted in Saudi Arabia, and the country has led a coalition which has carried out deadly airstrikes across Yemen since 2015.

A World Cup in Saudi Arabia would also most likely have to be held in November or December as with last year's tournament in Qatar due to extreme heat and humidity in the usual dates of the northern hemisphere's summer.

Despite the human rights concerns, International Olympic Committee member Infantino has watched the opening matches of the last two men's World Cups in bin Salman's company and attended boxing fights in Saudi Arabia with the Crown Prince.

The Saudi city of Jeddah has also been awarded hosting rights for this year's men's FIFA Club World Cup, and a bid from the country for the 2035 FIFA Women's World Cup has been mooted.

The Saudi Arabia women's team was only formed in 2021 and has not played in a competitive tournament.