Saudi Arabia has been chosen to host the next edition of the FIFA Club World Cup with the football tournament due to kick off in December. The intercontinental competition, to be staged from Dec. 12 to 22, becomes the latest major international sporting event to be held in the Kingdom and will add further momentum to the development of the men’s and women’s game in the country at all levels.
The decision was made at a FIFA Council meeting on Tuesday and came just days after Al-Hilal faced Real Madrid having become the first winner of the AFC Champions League and first Saudi club to reach the final of the tournament. Saudi Arabia will be only the sixth host of the competition since its inception in 2000.
Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said: “We are honored and extremely excited to be given the opportunity to welcome the world’s leading football clubs and their fans to Saudi Arabia. “Many fans will have recently witnessed our ability as a nation to compete at the highest possible level on the pitch. Now we have the chance to prove we are also world-class hosts off it. We look forward to showcasing our genuine love of the game and our desire to be a force for good.
“Today is another important step forward on our journey of transformation in football and as a country and I trust all involved will see for themselves the undeniable progress being made at many different levels. “We host international sports for the simple reason that we truly believe in the power of sport to inspire our boys and girls, to create new connections, and build new relationships.
“This will mean so much to our people where 70 percent are under the age of 35 and are absolutely obsessed with football,” the prince added. Football is the national sport of Saudi Arabia, rooted in communities in all corners of country, where 80 percent of the population play, attend, or follow the game.
The awarding of the FIFA Club World Cup 2023 represents the latest chapter of Saudi football’s development. The Kingdom was also recently confirmed as host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup and has an active bid in place to host the 2026 AFC Women’s Asian Cup.
President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation and newly elected FIFA Council member, Yasser Al-Misehal, said: “The FIFA Club World Cup is a special competition that has delivered incredible moments. “Not only has it gifted many memories to millions across the globe, but the tournament has also created new international rivalries and forged new friendships within the game. We thank FIFA for their trust in us to deliver an exceptional edition of the event.
“Saudi football is going through an unprecedented period of growth, there is fresh energy and sense of optimism thanks to a clear strategy across all areas of the game. “Currently we’ve more players registered at all age groups for boys and girls than ever before. We have more qualified coaches, more qualified referees, better governance, and stronger domestic leagues, including the SPL (Saudi Pro League).
“The future is bright, and this tournament is another highlight to look forward to especially when you consider some of the mouth-watering fixtures, and players who might take part,” Al-Misehal added. The Saudi men’s first team marked their sixth FIFA World Cup appearance last year following a best-ever qualification campaign and captured global headlines in Qatar following their victory over eventual champions Argentina.
Meanwhile, their female counterparts have been on a historic run of growth and development since their establishment in 2021 and were recently crowned champions in their first-ever hosted international championship. And the newly formed U-17 squad will hope to follow in their footsteps after this month undergoing their first training camp.
The exciting trajectory of growth for women’s football in Saudi Arabia continues with the conclusion of the inaugural eight-team SAFF Women’s Premier League. There has also been a tremendous increase in sports participation across all levels in the Kingdom, with more than 200,000 girls practicing sports every week and 50,000 taking part in the first-ever Schools League.
Credit: Independent News Pakistan-INP