Saudi Arabia's vice-minister of sport praised Qatar for their hosting of the World Cup last year and said his country wanted to experience it for themselves as they bid to host the tournament in 2034.
Saudi Arabia is seeking to host the showpiece after global football body FIFA invited bids earlier this month from Asia and Oceania, setting a deadline of October 31. Qatar was the first country in the Middle East to host the World Cup in November-December last year and Saudi vice-minister of sport Bader Alkadi lauded the host nation despite strained diplomatic relations between the two states in recent years.
"Like the pride you had in the UK when you hosted the Olympics, like how proud we are about us beating Argentina at the World Cup. And Qatar ... we're proud of what other countries have done delivering an excellent World Cup," Alkadi said at the Leaders sports conference in London.
"Definitely we want to have this at home. And we want to ensure that we develop our country to host at a high standard such events," he said.
When asked about the fan experience at Qatar which included no alcohol being served in stadiums, a decision made a week before the tournament began, Alkadi said people had enjoyed a unique experience. "And that's something honestly we applaud our colleagues and Qatar for, for going through and definitely proving that it is a possibility (and it) is something that we would want to repeat," he added.
He did not clarify if that meant they would allow alcohol to be served in fan zones and hotels, as was the case in Qatar. Alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia. Critics accuse the country of using its sovereign wealth fund to engage in "sportswashing" in the face of heavy criticism of Saudi Arabia's human rights record. Saudi Arabia denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security through its laws.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said last month he does not care about allegations of "sportswashing" and that he will continue funding sport if it adds to the country's gross domestic product (GDP). Alkadi echoed the crown prince's comments and said the vast investment in sport was to improve the lives of Saudi people. "Well, that would have been a difficult question (sportswashing) before the crown prince answered it. It's not difficult anymore. So definitely whatever we do in sports, we do it for our people," Alkadi added."And the numbers speak for themselves in terms of the growth in mass participation in terms of the focus on elite athletes."