Saudi Arabia has been chosen to host the Fifa Club World Cup for the first time, from 12-22 December.
The announcement comes three days after Real Madrid lifted the trophy in Morocco, following a thrilling 5-3 win over Al-Hilal, the first Saudi club to reach the final of the tournament.
Saudi will be only the sixth host since the competition’s inception in 2000.
The country’s sports minister said hosting the tournament signalled “our desire to be a force for good”.
Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in sporting events in recent years, but has been accused of using events to ‘sportswash’ its reputation.
The country has been criticised for its human rights record by organisations including Amnesty International and Reprieve.
Earlier this month, co-hosts Australia and New Zealand asked Fifa to “urgently clarify” reports that Saudi Arabia’s tourism authority is to be named as an official sponsor of the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
A deal with Visit Saudi, which is set to be announced, has been criticised by human rights groups.
Amnesty said in a statement on Tuesday: “Fifa has yet again disregarded Saudi Arabia’s atrocious human rights record.
“Hard on the heels of awarding the Visit Saudi tourism site as a sponsor of the Women’s World Cup, it has announced the kingdom as host of the Club World Cup without any consideration of freedom of expression, discrimination or workers’ rights.”
It added Fifa was “complicit in blatant sports washing”.
HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal previously told BBC Sport that he believes the country will always face global criticism.
On the announcement of the Club World Cup, he said: “We are honoured 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.
“This 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.”
Fifa plans to change the format of the tournament from June 2025 to feature 32 teams and be held every four years – with 12 teams from Europe involved.
It is understood the Fifa Council agreed unanimously to support Saudi Arabia’s proposal to host the tournament with no confederation chiefs raising concerns.
Fifa insiders suggest that taking the event to a new country will help the ongoing development of the game and claim such tournaments can improve human rights through engagement. Other recent hosts of the Club World Cup include Qatar, the UAE and Morocco, each of which have also faced criticism over human rights.
Saudi Arabia are also reportedly planning a joint bid with Greece and Egypt to host the 2030 Fifa World Cup.
At the World Cup in Qatar last year, Saudi Arabia shocked eventual winners Argentina in their opening game but failed to make it out of the group.
Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo joined Saudi side Al Nassr in December.
The Gulf kingdom was awarded the hosting rights to stage the men’s Asian Cup in 2027 and is bidding to host the Women’s Asian Cup for the first time in 2026.
Source: BBCRead Full Story