FIFA seals closer Saudi ties with World Cup Aramco deal

FIFA deepened its ties to Saudi Arabia by confirming a sponsorship with the kingdom’s state oil firm Aramco on Thursday.

The deal was expected and became inevitable once Saudi Arabia was all but sealed last October as the 2034 host of the men’s World Cup.

Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

The deal through 2027 includes the men’s World Cup in 2026, co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico and the 2027 Women’s World Cup. Hosts of that tournament will be decided next month.

The value of the deal was not disclosed but is likely the richest ever for FIFA by average annual value. It could include the inaugural 32-team Club World Cup being hosted next year in the U.S.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has built close ties to Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since before the 2018 World Cup. That tournament in Russia was sponsored by state energy firm Gazprom.

The 2034 bidding was unexpectedly opened last October in a process seemingly expressly designed for Saudi Arabia to win, with only FIFA member federations in Asia and Oceania allowed to compete.

Saudi Arabia was confirmed as the only candidate by the end of that month.

The Visit Saudi tourist board was a low-level sponsor of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, though not at the 2023 Women’s World Cup following pushback by organizers in Australia and New Zealand.