FIFA consolidates ties with Saudi Arabia after sponsorship agreement

GENEVA.- The FIFA consolidated its ties with Saudi Arabia by confirming on Thursday a sponsorship agreement with Aramco, the reign's state oil company that amassed $121 billion in profits last year.

The deal was anticipated and became inevitable once Saudi Arabia essentially clinched last October to host the men's World Cup in 2034.

The sponsorship will run through 2027 and includes the 2026 men's World Cup, co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada, and the 2027 women's World Cup. The venue for that tournament will be selected next month in a vote that faces three candidates: Brazil; United States and Mexico; and Germany, Belgium and Holland.

The amount of the agreement with Aramco was not disclosed, but it is believed to be the richest in the history of FIFA in terms of annual value. The first 32-team Club World Cup in the United States was not mentioned by FIFA, but could be part of another agreement.

“With this collaboration, Aramco and FIFA intend to take advantage of the pull of football to create far-reaching social initiatives around the world,†the football governing body said in a statement.

Saudi sponsorship will fuel FIFA's revenue in the 2023-26 business cycle, which a conservative estimate could reach $11 billion.

Income from media rights, sponsorships, video game licenses, ticket sales and hospitality packages reached $7.5 billion during the four-year period that ended with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

FIFA-Saudi Arabia relationship:

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has forged a close bond with Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since before the 2018 World Cup. That tournament in Russia was sponsored by the state energy company Gazprom.

FIFA-Saudi Arabia ties remained firm despite the aftermath of the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and criticism of “sportswashing” by the reign to improve its reputation.

The selection process to host the 2034 World Cup was unexpectedly opened last October, a procedure tailor-made for the Saudis to obtain the venue. Only member federations from Asia and Oceania were allowed to compete. It became possible when FIFA reached an agreement with countries from three continents to host the 2030 tournament, which will be played in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Saudi Arabia was confirmed as the only candidate for 2034 at the end of that same month. Decisions regarding 2030 and 2034 will need to be ratified by FIFA member associations. The date or location of the conclave of the 221 members has not yet been announced.