Professional Fighters League founder Donn Davis has predicted a “historic” night ahead of the first Mixed Martial Arts event to take place in Saudi Arabia.

PFL’s title holders go up against belt holders from Bellator in a never-seen-before night of champions in Riyadh on Saturday.

This comes after the PFL acquired Bellator in November 2023.

Davis is relishing the opportunity of becoming the first MMA promotion to tie a deal with the sovereign state in a sold out event.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Davis said: “It’s historic. It’s the first-ever MMA event to take place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and we get to be a part of something historic in sport.

“I think Saudi Arabia is the future of combat sports.

“We’re a company of yes and there is another company out there who is the company of no and they can do what they want. We try to do things different and put the fans first.

“It’s a big deal, this is our first primetime event and media deal on ESPN. Acquiring Bellator has also been a big deal and now this is a big step in us becoming a co-leader in MMA and we’re excited for Saturday.

“This is a collaboration between our partners in Saudi Arabia and us at the PFL.”

The inaugural event will feature the likes of PFL’s Ray Cooper III, Thiago Santos and Clay Collard as well as Bellator’s Patricio Pitbull, Yoel Romero, Ryan Bader and Johnny Eblen.

Davis compared the format to an NBA All-Star game, insisting PFL’s putting the fans first mindset helped create the idea.

“We wanted to do the first event in Saudi but only if it was a great big event,” Davis added.

“We came up with an idea which has never been done before in combat sports. Champions against champions. PFL v Bellator.

“It’s like an All-Stars game which has real stakes where the players and athletes really care.

“We have big prize money with an extra belt where there’s a ring inside the belt. This is a big card with 12 current or former champions, six ultra champion bouts, this has never been done before.

“People are asking what if all the Bellator fighters win? Then they all win. We try and do things the fans want to see.”

PFL have worked alongside Saudi adviser Turki Alalshikh, who has helped put on major boxing events including the likes of Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury.

When asked about his experience of working with leading figures in Saudi, Davis said: “Everybody here. Turki, the minister of sport (Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal), the PIF team, they all want to win and excel and that is the shared value. It’s been a pleasure.”

Jurgen Klinsmann overcame Roberto Mancini as South Korea advanced to the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup on penalties after a dramatic draw against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

South Korea won 4-2 in the shoot-out after the round-of-16 match had ended 1-1 after extra time.

Defeat will be particularly hard for Mancini to take as Saudi Arabia led 1-0 deep into stoppage time at Education City Stadium through Abdullah Radif's 46th-minute strike.

Cho Gue-sung levelled the game in the 99th minute to send it into an additional period, then South Korea goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo was the hero in the shoot-out when saving penalties from Sami Al Naji and Abdulrahman Ghareeb.

Hwang Hee-chan converted the winner from the spot to send his country through to the last eight and a match against Australia on Friday.

Uzbekistan are also into the quarter-finals after beating Thailand 2-1, setting up a clash with hosts and defending champions Qatar.

Azizbek Turgunboev put Uzbekistan ahead in the 37th minute, controlling Diyor Kholmatov's diagonal pass on his chest and volleying low past Patiwat Khammai.

Thailand equalised through Supachok Sarachat's curling effort from outside the box 13 minutes after half-time, but it took just seven more minutes for Uzbekistan to regain the lead with what proved to be the decisive goal from Abbosbek Fayzullayev, who struck from distance to beat Khammai.

South Korea have avoided a round-of-16 clash with pre-Asian Cup favourites Japan after drawing 3-3 with Malaysia on Thursday.

Jurgen Klinsmann's team advanced as the runners-up in Group E after conceding in the 15th-minute of added time at Al Janoub Stadium.

Romel Morales struck late to level the group game and ensure Bahrain - who won 1-0 against third-placed Jordan - advanced as the group winners to face Japan. 

Despite losing, Jordan advanced as one of the best third-placed teams and will take on Iraq next.

South Korea were another of the pre-tournament favourites, but, like Japan, have had their setbacks in the group stage and progressed with one win and two draws.

A Son Heung-min penalty four minutes into injury time gave his team a 3-2 lead against Malaysia that would have sealed first place.

But Morales secured Malaysia's only point of the tournament by firing into the bottom corner from outside the area.

South Korea led through Jeong Woo-yeong's header in the 21st minute. Faisal Halim levelled six minutes after half-time and Malaysia had the chance to go ahead after Seol Young-woo fouled Arif Aiman in the box. Aiman stepped up and converted from the penalty spot.

South Korea equalised in the 83rd minute thanks to an own goal by Syihan Hazmi before the dramatic conclusion.

Klinsmann may be grateful to avoid Japan for now, even as the four-time champions had their own problems and finished runners-up in Group D behind Iraq.

Bahrain lost their opening game to South Korea but advanced to the knockout stage at the top of Group E after back-to-back 1-0 wins. It was Abdulla Yusuf Helal who struck in the 34th at Khalifa International Stadium to beat Jordan.

The last two matches of the group stage came in Group F, with both contests finishing as draws.

Saudi Arabia topped the group after drawing 0-0 with Thailand, who progressed as runners-up, while a 1-1 draw between Oman and Kyrgyzstan in the other game means both teams are eliminated.

South Korea versus Saudi Arabia looks like a standout last-16 fixture, with that contest due to take place on January 30.

Japan will play Bahrain a day later, while some of the other key contests include Iran meeting Syria and hosts Qatar going up against Indonesia.

The knockout stage starts on January 28 as Australia take on Indonesia.

Saudi Arabia advanced to the knockout stage of the Asian Cup with a game to spare after beating nine-man Kyrgyzstan 2-0 on Sunday.

Goals in each half from Mohamed Kanno and Faisal Al-Ghamdi at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, Qatar, put the three-time champions in first place in Group F.

The Saudis have six points from two games and are two points ahead of Thailand, who earlier drew 0-0 with Oman. Third-place Oman have one point and Kyrgyzstan are pointless.

The task for Saudi Arabia was made much easier by Kyrgyzstan, who were making only their second appearance in the tournament, having a player sent off early in each half.

First to go was Aizar Akmatov for a rash challenge on Sami Al-Naji after just eight minutes.

Kanno broke the deadlock 10 minutes before the break, volleying home Saud Abdulhamid's cross at the far post.

Seven minutes into the second half, Kimi Merk was also shown a red for a dangerous tackle.

It resulted in almost constant pressure from Saudi Arabia and, with six minutes remaining, Al-Ghamdi’s long-range shot took a deflection and went through the hands of the otherwise impressive Erzhan Tokotaev in goal.

"It is difficult to play against Saudi Arabia with 11 players but with nine it is too difficult," Tajikistan captain Tamirlan Kozubaev said. "We did our best."

Earlier, Thailand moved closer to securing a spot in the knockout stage of the Asian Cup after drawing 0-0 with Oman on Sunday.

There was little attacking action of note at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha with a close-range header from Elias Dolah of Thailand in the 15th minute almost crossing the line before it was cleared.

Oman, who lost their opening game against Saudi Arabia, struggled to break through the committed Thailand defence. Issam Al-Sabhi came closest with a shot that was saved late in the game.

"We are so happy to get one point and everybody worked hard for each other," Thailand defender Pansa Hemviboom said. "We communicated well as a team to get this result."

Oman, with just a point from their opening two games, need a win in their final group match against Kyrgyzstan to keep alive hopes of a place in the knockout stage.

The top two teams from each of the six groups advance, along with the four best runners-up.

Former world champion Shaun Murphy has backed the announcement of Saudi Arabia’s first ever invitational snooker event and the introduction of a new golden ball which could increase the maximum break to 167.

The inaugural Riyadh Season World Masters of Snooker will take place in March with seven-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan set to feature in the 10-player field alongside 2019 world champion Judd Trump and current holder Luca Brecel.

The tournament will see the introduction of a 23rd golden ball, known as the Riyadh Season ball, which will be worth 20 points, but can only be potted once a maximum break of 147 has been completed.

Murphy urged traditionalists to give the novel idea a chance, likening it to the single-frame Snooker Shoot-Out, which was met with plenty of resistance when it was introduced, but has evolved into a permanent fixture on the world ranking calendar since 2017.

Murphy, who as the current world number six is set to feature in the tournament, told the PA news agency: “It was heresy when the Shoot-Out was brought in as a ranking event – people were nearly out with torches on the streets – but I haven’t met a single person who has been to the Shoot-Out and not enjoyed it.

“You should never criticise something unless you’ve tried it. It’s just something different and it’s not the first time the sport has tried new ideas.

“I imagine they (World Snooker Tour) had to make a few concessions to get the event over the line, and the new promoters in Saudi will want their event to stand out and be different. At the end of the day you’d rather have the event than not.”

Precise details of the format relating to the golden ball are yet to be revealed, but the PA news agency understands that WST is not considering the introduction of the ball for any other tournaments.

The Saudi tournament, due to be held in Riyadh from March 4-6 and featuring the top eight players in the world and a prize pool of one million US dollars, will not offer the highest break in the sport’s history.

A short-lived experiment in 1959 saw the introduction of a ‘Snooker Plus’ tournament, which included two additional colours, an orange ball worth eight points and a purple worth 10, which raised the theoretically available maximum to 210.

The announcement of the Saudi event, hailed as a “huge breakthrough” by WST chairman Steve Dawson, was met with some resistance from lower-ranked players, with 2023 Shoot-Out semi-finalist Steven Hallworth tweeting: “Was starting to lose sleep with worry that the top 8 players might run out of events and cash soon, thank God for this”.

Amnesty International criticised snooker’s addition to the growing list of sports heading to the kingdom, calling on those involved to seize the opportunity to speak out about human rights abuses.

Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK’s Economic Affairs director, said: “It was just a matter of time before Saudi Arabia’s huge sportswashing machine sucked in snooker along with almost every other major world sport.

“If the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump play in Riyadh, they shouldn’t hesitate to speak out about human rights.”

For all that Murphy accepts the relevance of continued expressions of concern, the 41-year-old insists neither those prospective invitees, nor the sport itself, should be in any quandary about being part of the historic deal.

“Obviously there is a question over human rights as there should be, but if we (WST) only traded with countries with perfect human rights records, it would be a very, very small pool to pick from,” added Murphy.

“We wouldn’t be trading with the UK either. We haven’t covered ourselves in glory over hundreds of years, going around invading other countries, so people in glass houses need to be careful where they throw their stones.”

The World Snooker Tour has announced Saudi Arabia will host its first ever invitational snooker event with the introduction of a new golden ball which could increase the maximum break to 167.

The inaugural Riyadh Season World Masters of Snooker will take place in March and seven-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan is set to feature in the 10-player field alongside 2019 world champion Judd Trump and current holder Luca Brecel.

The tournament will see the introduction of a 23rd golden ball, known as the Riyadh Season ball, which will be worth 20 points, however, this can only be potted once a maximum break of 147 has been completed.

The three-day event will take place at Boulevard Arena in Boulevard City, Riyadh, from March 4-6.

Snooker will join a host of other sports to take a place in Saudi Arabia in recent years after a deal was confirmed between CEO of General Entertainment Authority Faisal Bafarat and the chairman of World Snooker Tour Steve Dawson, alongside Saudi advisor Turki Alalshikh and sports promoters Eddie Hearn and Barry Hearn.

Dawson said: “It is a great privilege for the World Snooker Tour to work in partnership with HE Advisor Turki Alalshikh to stage an event in Saudi Arabia for the first time.

“This is a huge breakthrough for snooker into a new territory, and we see this as the beginning of a new adventure for our sport in the region.

“We are looking forward to being a part of Riyadh Season on this fantastic new event featuring the world’s best players.

“We will be honoured to bring our sport to the amazing city of Riyadh, and for the local fans this will be their first chance to see some of snooker’s all-time greats.”

Eddie Hearn confirmed the event will feature the top eight players in the world including two wildcards and a prize pool of one million US dollars.

Trump believes snooker heading to Saudi Arabia is “amazing” for the sport.

He told World Snooker Tour on X: “It’s amazing for snooker to be going to different places.

“It’s amazing to be going back to China and feel appreciated again.

“I think we are seeing snooker in new territories now with exhibitions popping up in different places and it’s amazing that Saudi Arabia want to get involved.”

Ali Albulayhi scored in stoppage time as Saudi Arabia came back to beat Oman 2-1 in the Asian Cup on Tuesday.

In a dramatic conclusion to the match at Khalifa International Stadium, Albulayhi's headed winner was first ruled out for offside and then given after a VAR check.

To add to the chaotic scenes, Oman initially thought the offside call had been upheld and tried to restart the game with a free-kick.

But when referee Shaun Evans pointed to the centre spot, it sparked a mass celebration among the Saudi players and substitutes in front of fans as it appeared they believed the full-time whistle had blown, causing an extended delay before the match could resume.

Oman had led through Salaah Al Yahyaei’s 14th-minute penalty and withstood sustained pressure from Saudi Arabia until Abdulrahman Ghareeb scored three minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute.

His brilliant individual goal in the 78th minute spared Saudi coach Roberto Mancini defeat in his team's opening Group F game.

Starting a run from outside the box, he showed speed to burst away from Oman captain Harib Al Saadi and then dancing feet to beat two players and sweep a low shot past goalkeeper Ibrahim Al Mukhaini.

Albulayhi's winner came in the sixth minute of stoppage time when Ali Lajami flicked on a corner for him to head in from close range.

In the other Group F game, Supachai Chaided scored both of Thailand's goals in a 2-0 victory over Kyrgyzstan.

Thailand dominated at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium and could have scored twice early on when Supachok Sarachat hit the post and Suphanat Mueanta had an effort cannon off the crossbar.

Supachai made his team's superiority count in the 26th minute when he converted on the rebound after Bordin Phala's shot was saved by Kyrgyzstan goalkeeper Erzhan Tokotaev.

He scored his second three minutes after the break with another close-range finish as Kyrgyzstan struggled to deal with a cross into the box.

Manchester City’s Jack Grealish has denied being disrespectful towards Fluminense during Friday’s Club World Cup final victory.

Tempers briefly flared after the final whistle as City captain Kyle Walker and Fluminense defender Felipe Melo grappled in a heated argument.

Melo subsequently blamed Grealish for stoking tensions, claiming the City winger had shouted ‘ole’.

Grealish insisted that was not true, writing on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter: “Not once did I say ole.”

The situation quickly calmed down before City lifted their fifth trophy of the year following a comprehensive 4-0 win over the Brazilian side in Saudi Arabia.

Julian Alvarez scored twice, with Phil Foden also netting in the second half after a Nino own goal had put City two up.

Manchester City eased into the final of the Club World Cup with a comfortable 3-0 win over Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds on Tuesday.

Without Erling Haaland, the Champions League winners needed an own goal to launch their campaign in Saudi Arabia but second-half strikes from Mateo Kovavic and Bernardo Silva saw them stroll to victory.

Having already added the European Super Cup to last season’s treble, City will now have the chance to claim a fifth trophy of the calendar year when they face Brazil’s Fluminese in Friday’s final in Jeddah.

With Urawa showing limited ambition against City’s formidable line-up, the only surprise was the game remained goalless until first-half stoppage time.

City may have been without a recognised centre forward in Haaland’s continued absence due to a foot injury, but the Reds defence was given little respite and goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa had a busy night.

Rodri had City’s first attempt on goal when he fired wide after eight minutes and he had another effort deflected past the post after Silva shot over.

Nishikawa did well to turn over from Matheus Nunes on the half-hour and he denied both the Portugal international again and Phil Foden from distance.

City finally claimed the breakthrough their play deserved just before the interval, although they did benefit from a stroke of luck.

Nunes broke down the right and exchanged passes with Silva before driving the ball low towards goal, where it was turned into his own net by Norwegian defender Marius Hoibraten.

With their lead established, City tightened their grip after the break.

Kyle Walker played Kovacic into space for the Croatia midfielder to lift the ball over Nishikawa for the second after 52 minutes.

Nunes should have added another moments later but headed wide from a Jack Grealish cross.

The third came just before the hour after Nishikawa pushed away another Nunes effort and Silva drove in the rebound with the aid of a deflection.

Guardiola began to make changes in the latter stages as he looked ahead to the final.

One of the substitutes, Julian Alvarez, was denied by Nishikawa at point-blank range and Grealish squandered another chance by delaying his shot.

Urawa had a couple of late chances as City eased up but John Stones cleared after Bryan Linssen seized on a poor backpass and Ederson denied Shoya Nakajima with his feet.

Pep Guardiola says he is “very pleased and excited” that Manchester City are taking part in the Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia over the coming days.

The treble winners go into the tournament after a slump in results, dropping points in five of their last six Premier League games to leave them fourth in the table.

Playing Club World Cup matches on Tuesday and Friday, they do not return to league action until December 27, by which time there could be a considerable gap between them and the top of the table.

Having seen his side held to a 2-2 draw at home by Crystal Palace on Saturday, Guardiola was asked if the tournament in Saudi Arabia had come at the worst possible time for City, and he said: “No – we love to go to play the (Club) World Cup.

“To go there you have to win the Champions League. I’m very pleased and excited to go there and try to win it, of course.

“The schedule is what it is, the results are what they are and you have to accept it.”

Guardiola stressed with regard to the situation in the league that City must “win games and depend on ourselves”.

Prior to Saturday’s contest, they drew 4-4 with Chelsea, 1-1 with Liverpool and 3-3 with Tottenham and lost 1-0 to Aston Villa before winning 2-1 at Luton.

The Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Palace matches saw City concede late equalisers – on Saturday, after City had led 2-0 and Jean-Philippe Mateta pulled a 76th-minute goal back for the visitors, Michael Olise levelled with a penalty in the fifth minute of stoppage-time.

And when asked why they were unable to close out games, Guardiola said “I would like to know,” adding: “Don’t give away that penalty, and the game will be over. The last minutes, 2-1…we have to control it better.”

City’s trip to Saudi Arabia will see them play Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds in the semis on Tuesday, with the final and third-place play-off then taking place on Friday.

Guardiola said: “The Champions League is more important, absolutely.

“But to play this tournament that we have never played before – you need to be there. And we are going to fly there and see the environment, how it is, and play against Urawa the best as possible to deserve to get to the final.

“Of course, it’s nice. Years ago we could not imagine to be there and we are there.”

Giorgio Chiellini believes the Saudi Pro League deserves greater respect as the Gulf state aims to build a competition capable of shifting the global power dynamic in football.

The former Juventus defender, who announced his retirement on Monday, made a similarly unexpected move to the United States when joining MLS side Los Angeles FC in 2022.

Having admired from afar when Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar all completed the switch to Saudi Arabia, Chiellini thinks world football must take note of the ongoings in Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, FIFA announced in October that Saudi Arabia was the only country to submit a bid to host the 2034 World Cup before the deadline, making a second tournament in the Gulf a formality following last year's World Cup in Qatar.

"I think that we have to respect this type of new league and new market," Chiellini, who confirmed his retirement on Monday, told Stats Perform.

"Saudi Arabia is trying to do a lot of new advertising ahead of the World Cup in 2034 to host a good tournament – not like what happened in Qatar. They were trying to do their best but weren't able to develop football in the culture.

"It maybe needs more time. They have just started to build a basis a little better than Qatar and they have a much bigger state than Qatar; that could help them reach this goal."

A host of world-class talent has been enticed to the Saudi Pro League, with players struggling to refuse lucrative contracts.

But Chiellini called for trust in Saudi Arabia's efforts.

"They are doing something unexpected and something so strong in this way," he added. "But I think that they are very trustworthy and it's not a fake moment that will finish.

"Then we'll see, I don't know how it will continue to develop and there are many directions [that it could go], but it's something that we have to respect.

"We have to accept and I think that we have to take advantage of all that, but also we could adapt that in both ways.

"[It is] something that could be good for everyone, from European football and Saudi, it depends on the way you want to see it but it's something that we could expect for years to come."

Saudi Arabia's emergence as the sole bidder to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup is no surprise and could be part of a major power shift to affect football in the next few years.

That is the view of sports finance expert Dan Plumley, who also says FIFA will find it difficult to avoid political questions when Saudi oil company Aramco becomes the governing body's highest-paying sponsor.

FIFA confirmed in October that Saudi Arabia was the only country to submit a bid to host the 2034 World Cup before the deadline, making a second tournament in the Gulf a mere formality.

The announcement came less than a year after the 2022 tournament was held in Qatar, a decision which was roundly criticised due to the country's poor human rights record and criminalisation of same-sex relationships. 

Saudi Arabia's bid to host football's most iconic tournament comes after the state's Public Investment Fund took direct control of four Saudi Pro League clubs, attracting big names including Karim Benzema, Neymar and Sadio Mane to a league which already contained Cristiano Ronaldo.

Plumley foresees the country emerging as a football powerhouse over the next decade, with the World Cup playing a major role in that vision.

"I don't think it's a surprise, I think that you can see the power shift, the dynamics changing in world football," he told Stats Perform of the 2034 bid.

"We've obviously seen it off the back of the recent Qatar World Cup, and you could see the narrative of Saudi Arabia's direction of travel with what they're doing with the Saudi Pro League.

"[It's] linked to their Vision 2030 project as a country and how they're trying to pivot away from oil and look at other ways to generate revenue in the future, on top of the World Cup being – alongside the Olympics – the biggest sporting event on the planet. 

"It's quite clear that was always going to be in their sights. I don't see that as any real surprise.

"I think there's a long waiting time now: when you look at the plans they've got for the Saudi Pro League, and couple that with hosting a World Cup, there's a lot of ifs. 

"But we could be looking at a significant power shift in world football in six to 10 years' time."

Just a few weeks after Saudi Arabia emerged as the sole 2034 bidder, it was reported that the nation's state-owned petroleum company Aramco was set to become FIFA's largest single sponsor, which critics have suggested amounts to a conflict of interest.

Asked about the prospective deal, Plumley said: "This is a much wider question around the governance of the sport, and I think you can draw some parallels to the situation in English football with the independent regulator.

"Part of the reason for the independent regulator is because people have not been happy with the Premier League being self-governing, being judge, jury and executioner.

"But that same kind of conversation is happening at UEFA levels, and it's been happening at FIFA levels for a number of years. 

"They are the ultimate governing body of world football. In that regard, it's very difficult to do anything else within the governance framework, because that's where we stop. 

"People will always draw parallels to the companies connected with that, and the way in which event hosting is done, where the World Cups are going and who the sponsors are. 

"There's been numerous conversations about that throughout history, it's now just positioned in a slightly different way because we're in slightly different territory.

"You can't avoid the politics of it, whether we like to or not. It's much bigger now than football and I think that's what you keep coming back to, [the fact that] there's a lot going on in the market that transcends the game on the pitch."

Anthony Joshua will fight on the same bill as Deontay Wilder in Saudi Arabia on December 23.

The Briton, who is looking to insert himself back into the world title picture in the heavyweight division, will face Sweden’s Otto Wallin in the Middle East.

Joshua, who beat Robert Helenius in his last bout in August, will fight after Wilder, who faces Joseph Parker on the undercard.

December 23 was initially reserved for Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk’s undisputed heavyweight showdown, which has since been postponed following Fury’s lacklustre performance against Francis Ngannou last month.

A prospective Saudi Arabia World Cup is taking football back to a “dark time”, according to Human Rights Watch.

FIFA confirmed on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia is the sole bidder for the 2034 tournament after a process lasting less than a month and with only interest from Asian and Oceanian federations permitted.

While it still needs to be rubber-stamped, probably at FIFA’s Congress late next year, this appears little more than a formality.

In a statement to the PA news agency, Minky Worden, director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said: “FIFA awarding the World Cup without any competition or transparent bidding and assessment process takes us back to the dark time for football that delivered the Qatar and Russia World Cups in a corrupt process that led to years of arrests.

“With more than 11 years until the 2034 World Cup, why were all other federations that had previously expressed an interest in bidding to host a World Cup discouraged or disallowed?”

In announcing the bids, FIFA stressed that its dialogue with Saudi Arabia prior to the Congress will include ensuring its human rights obligations are met, but Worden has low expectations.

“The previous due diligence process to assess bids and deal with predictable human rights problems wasn’t perfect – but it existed,” she said.

“FIFA’s human rights policy will be worth less than the paper it’s printed on if Saudi Arabia’s bid goes forward as planned.”

Saudi Arabia is set to stage the World Cup in 2034 after being confirmed as the sole bidder.

Australia was the only potential challenger but Football Australia announced hours before FIFA’s deadline on Tuesday that it would not be submitting a bid.

FIFA had already said the tournament would be held in Asia or Oceania, while Saudi Arabia had garnered immediate support from the Asian Football Confederation.

A Saudi World Cup, which may not be confirmed until a FIFA Congress late next year, is likely to be highly controversial given concerns over the country’s human rights record.

It would almost certainly mean another winter edition, as with last year’s tournament in Qatar, due to the extreme heat during the region’s summer.

A FIFA statement said: “The FIFA administration will conduct a targeted dialogue with bidders to ensure complete, comprehensive bids are received and evaluated against the minimum hosting requirements as also previously approved by the FIFA Council.

“This dialogue will focus on the defined priority areas of the event vision and key metrics, infrastructure, services, commercial, and sustainability and human rights.”

A statement from Football Australia said it had “explored the opportunity” of a bid but had decided against it.

“Having taken all factors into consideration, we have reached the conclusion not to do so for the 2034 competition,” the statement said.

“Football Australia is ambitious to bring more major tournaments to our shores. We believe we are in a strong position to host the Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 and then welcome the greatest teams in world football for the 2029 FIFA Club World Cup.”

It said hosting those events, in between the 2023 Women’s World Cup and 2032 Olympics in Brisbane, would complete a “truly golden decade for Australian football”.

CEO James Johnson added: “The reality is I don’t like to throw darts at a dartboard. When we weigh up these decisions, I like to bet on sure things. I realised we could have a shot but I think at the end the outcome was not going to be favourable to Australia.

“Saudi is a strong bid. They’ve got a lot of resources. They’re disrupting European club football at the moment. Their government are prioritising investment in football and I think that’s difficult to compete with.”

Saudi Arabia announced its declaration of interest within hours of FIFA outlining the process for hosting the 2034 tournament earlier this month.

With the 2026 finals heading to the United States, Canada and Mexico and the 2030 finals to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, including some matches in South America – subject to approval by FIFA’s congress – only bids from the Asian Football Confederation and the Oceania Football Confederation were being considered.

Saudi Arabia confirmed on October 4 that it would bid for the showpiece tournament in 2034.

Saudi minister of sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal said in a statement via the Saudi Press Agency: “Hosting a FIFA World Cup in 2034 would help us achieve our dream of becoming a leading nation in world sport and would mark a significant milestone in the country’s transformation.

“As an emerging and welcoming home for all sports, we believe that hosting a FIFA World Cup is a natural next step in our football journey.”

Last week Human Rights Watch complained that FIFA was failing to apply its own rules in regards to Saudi Arabia’s bid, specifically article seven of its human rights policy.

The article states: “FIFA will constructively engage with relevant authorities and other stakeholders and make every effort to uphold its international human rights responsibilities.”

Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said: “The possibility that FIFA could award Saudi Arabia the 2034 World Cup despite its appalling human rights record and closed door to any monitoring exposes FIFA’s commitments to human rights as a sham.”

On Tuesday, Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s head of economic and social justice, urged FIFA not to rush into a decision, saying: “With only a single bid for each tournament on the table, FIFA may have scored an own goal.

“FIFA must now make clear how it expects hosts to comply with its human rights policies. It must also be prepared to halt the bidding process if serious human rights risks are not credibly addressed.

“The best chance for FIFA to obtain binding guarantees to protect workers’ rights, ensure freedom of expression and prevent discrimination linked to the World Cup is during the host selection process – not after the hosts have been confirmed and tournament preparation has begun.”

Confronting accusations of “sportswashing” in an interview with Fox News last month, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said: “If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by way of one per cent, then I will continue doing sportwashing.

“I don’t care. One per cent growth of GDP from sport and I’m aiming for another one-and-a-half per cent. Call it whatever you want, we’re going to get that one-and-a-half per cent.”

Eddie Howe, manager of Saudi-backed Newcastle, was asked about the prospect of a Saudi Arabian World Cup at a press conference on Tuesday.

“Our trips out there to Riyadh and Jeddah were two different experiences,” Howe said. “Wherever we went was really well organised and we were well looked after. If that’s a sign of what a World Cup there might look like then you can rest assured that everything will be structurally really good.”

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