(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia will back a joint bid by the U.S., Canada and Mexico to host soccer’s 2026 World Cup, underlining its eagerness to strengthen ties with the Trump White House.
Morocco, the only other contender, solicited Riyadh’s support a month ago and by then “we had given our word to the Americans,” Turki Al Alshikh, head of the Saudi Sports Authority, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV in Zurich on Monday. “We balance issues, and in the end, we go with the interests of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
FIFA, the sport’s governing body, is to elect the host country on June 13.
U.S.-Saudi ties, which had suffered under President Barack Obama, are on the upswing under his successor Donald Trump, who shares the kingdom’s antipathy toward Iran. Riyadh hosted the first leg of Trump’s first foreign presidential trip, and sent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on a three-week American tour to promote his economic and social transformation plan.
In addition to putting a new emphasis on sports as a means of public diplomacy, Saudi Arabia is also looking at the industry as an untapped revenue source. It plans to privatize its 16 soccer teams as part of a broader plan to raise funds, and Al Alshikh predicted that could bring in $800 million to $1.5 billion.
In a move it promoted abroad, the conservative Islamic kingdom allowed women to enter three sports stadiums for the first time this year to encourage spending on local sporting events. Al Alshikh said all stadiums will be opened to women in the coming season.
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