Club World Cup reveals change in Saudi Arabia heading to the 2034 World Cup

JEDDA.- During the Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia It was unusual to observe a woman driving on the crowded streets of Jeddah.

The reign lifted the ban on women driving in 2018 — a key modernization reform in an ultra-conservative nation — but there was no firsthand evidence in the first four days of the event that was seen as key before the World Cup 2034.

Spending an hour a day in taxis is common in a city that does not have public transportation for its more than five million inhabitants. On Thursday a trip was requested through an application of the Middle East to leave from a five-star hotel that housed the FIFA. A woman, around 20 years old, arrived wearing Western clothing and her head covered. No photo appeared on the Jeeny app, just a purple and white image of a hijab.

The bubble of skepticism of a visitor from the West was burst and The frequent claims of transformative changes by Saudis and football officials increasingly seem more accurate.

We are living an exciting path“, the president of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation told The Associated Press on Thursday, Yasser al Misehal. “We have great leadership and people want to change.”

The leader spearheading this change is the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salmanwho put soccer, golf and boxing at the center of his lavish plans to lead an oil-free economy known as Vision 2030. His critics say this is “sportswashing,” washing with sport the image damaged by his human rights record.

The crown prince has met with the president of FIFA so many times, Gianni Infantinosince 2018 that the fact that Saudi Arabia was the only candidate for World Cup 2034 It was a surprise and something inevitable.

Long wait for Saudi Arabia:

The brief Club World Cup which ended on Friday was awarded to the reign in February and was the first tournament FIFA in the country since the nineties.

He brought to Jeddah the six continental champions, thousands of fans and hundreds of workers from the FIFA. Officials from 150 of the 211 member federations also attended for a meeting to strengthen ties that will grow over the next 11 years.

In the countryside, the symbolism of the freedoms women have gained was clear, even though they still face male guardianship laws. The FIFA chose Tori Penso of USA to referee two of the seven matches.

The seven-club tournament was a step towards the nation hosting 104 matches in the World.

“Everyone took very good care of us at the hotel,” said the Manchester City coach. Pep Guardiola, Saturday. “The field could be better.”

Attendance reached 56,000 people for the meeting between Al Ittihad and Al Ahly from Cairo, a team that received the support of the Egyptian community in Jeddah.

“If you walk down the streets you will see many different people, different cultures that are Saudi,” he said. Al Misehal.

A taxi driver the AP traveled with, a man from Pakistan who has worked in Jeddah for more than a decade, said he lived in Al Balad until he was given two weeks to vacate. The buildings in that place will be demolished to build “hotels, hotels”he indicated.

Throughout Al Balad, buildings and construction sites are surrounded by two-meter fences with signs of the Culture Ministry.

More changes on the way:

Like Doha’s massive expansion after it was granted World Cup 2022the cities of Saudi Arabia like Jeddah will look very different in the next decade.

The emergence of Saudi Arabia in football politics since April 2019 is also worth watching.

Al Misehal was elected in February by Asian voters to join the 37-member board of directors of the FIFA and the presidency of the Asian Confederation will be free in 2027. FIFA It will also have elections before Infantino’s term ends in 2031, after 15 years.

When asked about his future ambitions, Al Misehal He told the AP that “to be honest, it’s very early.”

But the path is clear and Saudi football is on an impressive trajectory.