Footballers could PULL OUT of the 2034 Saudi World Cup due to workload issues, warns head of the PFA… with event set to be held in winter AGAIN, forcing extended domestic campaigns

Footballers could drop out of the Saudi World Cup over workload issues, the head of the PFA has warned.

Earlier on Tuesday the middle eastern country was confirmed as the sole bidder for the tournament in 2034, meaning it is inevitable that the event will – as it was in Qatar last year – be held in the winter and the middle of the European seasons.

PFA chief executive Maheta Molango believes that, coupled with an ever-growing calendar, could see some of the planet’s biggest players stop playing for their countries.

The path was cleared for Saudi after only rival Australia withdrew its interest this morning. After the deadline passed FIFA later confirmed Saudi was the only bidder with confirmation of what is a now a formality is expected in late 2024.

Given Saudi’s searing temperatures a winter tournament and extended domestic seasons are an almost-certainty, and Molango believes some of the planet’s biggest names may give it a miss.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino looks set to appoint Saudi Arabia as hosts of 2034 World Cup
PFA chief Maheta Molango believes over-worked footballers could drop out of the World Cup
The most recent World Cup, won by Argentina, was moved to a winter spot by hosts Qatar

‘We all want our biggest tournaments to showcase our best players,’ he told Mail Sport. ‘That means we need to start listening when players start opting out of international football due to the pressures of the workload they are facing. We think that’s a real risk.’

Molango also called for more clarity around the fixture list. ‘It’s important that we wait to see the detail, but we have to get to a situation where there is far greater co-ordination around the organisation of the global fixture calendar,’ he said.

‘We can’t keep treating tournaments and competitions in isolation. There is always a knock-on impact.’

Molango has spent time with Manchester United defender Raphael Varane – who retired from international football at the age of 29 earlier this year after playing in the final for France in Qatar. And he questioned a return to a winter event.

‘The men’s World Cup in Qatar was played in the European winter, but this was understood to be an exceptional circumstance,’ he said. ‘If that now isn’t going to be the case, we need to have a proper understanding of what that means for the scheduling of the wider calendar and, crucially, the impact on players in terms of injuries and fitness.

‘We’re not far enough removed from Qatar yet to assess that, but we know there is concern among players that they simply never get a break. Lengthening seasons to accommodate tournament scheduling obviously isn’t going to help.’

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has close links with Saudi Arabia. On October 4 the governing body made the shock announcement that the bidding process for 2034 would take place at the same time as the one for 2030. 

Potential bidders were only given until October 31 to register interest. Within minutes, Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman announced that the kingdom would bid.

Saudi Arabia look set to host in 2034, with Infantino (middle) seen in Riyadh last week for the launch of Saudi’s Esports World Cup (seated next to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman)
Jurgen Klopp was among the many Premier League bosses unimpressed by the winter slot

Human Rights Watch questioned that ‘unreasonably tight’ deadline.

Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at the campaign group, added: ‘The possibility that FIFA could award Saudi Arabia the 2034 World Cup despite its appalling human rights record and closed door to any monitoring exposes FIFA’s commitments to human rights as a sham.’

Elsewhere, Eddie Howe, manager of Saudi investment fund-owned Newcastle United, said: ‘Our trips out there to Riyadh and Jeddah were two very different experiences.

‘Everywhere we went was well organised; we were well looked after. If that’s a sign of what a World Cup might look like, structurally it will be really good.’