MENA Sports Wrap: Gaza sees subdued Saudi celebrations over World Cup win

MENA Sports Wrap: Gaza sees subdued Saudi celebrations over World Cup win
MENA Sports Wrap: Saudi Arabia is set to host the 2034 World Cup, after Australia pulled out of the bidding process.
4 min read
03 November, 2023
Saudi Arabia is set to host the 2034 World Cup [Getty]

Riyadh should be celebrating one of the biggest moments in its history, after Australia pulled out of the World Cup bidding process, guaranteeing Saudi Arabia's hosting rights for the 2034 tournament.

The war in Gaza has subdued anticipation about "Saudi 2034" with the kingdom effectively in mourning over the thousands killed in Israel's bombardment of the blockaded enclave.

It comes after Qatar hosted the 2022 World Cup with Morocco set to co-host the 2030 tournament along with Spain and Portugal.

Elsewhere, the pro-Palestine Green Brigade ultras have been banned from Celtic Park while the Tunisian tennis maestro Ons Jabeur used a win to highlight the situation in Gaza.

Saudi Arabia one step closer to hosting World Cup 

Saudi Arabia will host the 2034 World Cup by default after Australia - the only other bidder - withdrew from the race on Tuesday.

Australia, who never fully committed themselves to hosting the tournament, will instead focus on the 2026 Women's Asian Cup and the 2029 Club World Cup.

Officially it has just registered the kingdom has only submitted an "expression of interest" to host the tournament but as the sole candidate, it is almost certain to organise the 2034 tournament. 

While one would expect huge celebrations on the streets of Riyadh - as witnessed when the Green Falcons beat Argentina last year - the response has been rather subdued, most likely due to the war in Gaza.

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There was almost no footage on social media honking cars and flag waving in the capital with the nearly 10,000 Palestinians dead in Israel's ongoing bombardment of Gaza.

Saudis might instead wait until the end of 2024 when FIFA is expected to officially announce Saudi Arabia as host.

Eddie Howe, manager of Saudi-owned Newcastle United, appears to relish the opportunity for the kingdom to host the World Cup, saying his team's two visits to the Gulf state were well organised.

"If that's a sign of what the World Cup might look like then I think you can be rest assured that everything will be structurally really good," he told reporters.

Saudi Arabia has vowed to "grow the game and inspire future generations" although there have been criticisms over the kingdom's human rights record, which will likely continue until 2o34.

Saudi daily Okaz said that the announcement confirms the Saudi leadership's "distinguished management" of its World Cup bid and the "unprecedented consensus of support" it had generated

Celtic Green Brigade banned after defying Palestine Flag ban

Members of Celtic's Green Brigade have been suspended from Celtic Park after defying a ban on the flying of the Palestinian flag in their home match against Atletico Madrid.

In an email sent to supporters with tickets in the standing section of Celtic Park, the club stated that "repeated incidents of unacceptable conduct involving the 'Green Brigade' group" had led to the suspension of home tickets for members of the North Curve ultras.

The incidents include an "unauthorised display" of Palestinian flags at marches against Kilmarnock on 7 October and Atletico Madrid on 25 October.

A spokesperson for the club stated that "to avoid any misunderstanding, the progressive steps taken by the blub over a period of time are as a result of an increasingly serious escalation in unacceptable behaviours and non-compliance with applicable regulations, at matches at Celtic Park and away grounds over a period of time, which are creating serious safety concerns and other issues."

Further incidents include the display of a banner at Lazio on 4 October, as well as accusations of unsafe behaviour at Fir Park on 30 September, as well as the use of pyrotechnics at a game against Feyenoord on 19 September. Celtic were fined by UEFA over the incidents at Lazio and Feyenoord.

In response to the ban, the Green Brigade issued a statement on Wednesday accusing the board of directors of adopting "a position closer to the far-right British Government, with similar attempts to censor and sanction Palestinian solidarity".

The Celtic ultras added that the ban was "a result of the group's unapologetic solidarity with Palestine" and "is shamefully positioned on the wrong side of history".

They encouraged "all fans everywhere to fly the flag for Palestine".

Ons Jabeur makes emotional plea for Gaza help

The Arab world's most successful-ever tennis player, Ons Jabeur, used a WTA win to highlight Gaza, breaking down in tears as she described conditions in the besieged Palestinian enclave.

Jabeur choked back tears as she spoke on the court last night after earning her first win by avenging her Wimbledon final defeat to Marketa Vondrousova at the season-ending championships in Cancun, Mexico.

"It’s very tough seeing children, babies dying every day. It’s heartbreaking," she told the crowd in Mexico.

She also pledged to donate some of her winnings to Gaza, which is experiencing a humanitarian crisis of horrifying proportions.