Saudi Arabia captain hopes hosting 2034 World Cup can boost women's game

Bayan Sadagah says hosting the World Cup would reflect 'our nation’s profound passion for football'

Saudi Arabia's Bayan Sadagah, right, during a friendly against Bhutan at the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Stadium in 2022. AFP
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“When it comes to women’s football in Saudi Arabia, we are breaking records," said Lamia Bahaian, the Saudi Arabian Football Association’s first female vice president as she addressed a Fifa women’s convention in Australia in August.

Saudi Arabia has made massive strides over the past year intending to make its domestic league one of the most high-profile in world football. A summer of unprecedented spending saw the likes of Karim Benzema, Neymar, Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez join the Saudi Pro League just over six months after Cristiano Ronaldo blazed the same trail in swapping Europe for the kingdom.

Much like the success of the men’s league, women’s football in the country has also taken off.

There are more than 30 clubs across the Saudi Women's Premier League and first division clubs with 694 registered players, up from 374 in 2021, representing more than 20 nationalities. In June the SAFF announced it was investing 49.9 million riyals in the women's game and said almost 50,000 girls had registered in its inaugural schools’ league.

While there are plenty of tangibles to show the women's game is on the rise in the kingdom, it is hoped that the country's bid to host the 2034 World Cup – Saudi Arabia are the only confirmed bid – will be another shot in the arm for the domestic game.

“Hosting the World Cup would reflect our nation’s profound passion for football and how we’re progressing towards a dynamic in modern society under Vision 2030. The energy of our youth is infectious and it’s very powerful,” Saudi Arabia women's team captain Bayan Sadagah told The National.

When asked about the prospect of Saudi Arabia hosting the World Cup in 11 years' time, Sadagah added: “As a captain it makes me feel really proud but also as a citizen, as a human and a person who just loves the game, the feeling is just indescribable.”

The Saudi Women’s Premier League currently consists of eight clubs – Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Hilal, Al Nassr, Al Shabab, Al Yamamah FC, Eastern Flames FC and Sama FC – and has several well-known recruits of its own.

Ashleigh Plumptre, a former Leicester City defender and Nigeria international transferred to Al Ittihad in September while Lina Boussaha joined Al Nassr from Paris Saint-Germain partially due to the French Football Federation’s hijab ban.

Sadagah said hosting the World Cup in 2034 "will be a special turning point" and open new doors for young girls who want to play football, pointing to the success of the 2023 Women's World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand as proof of how hosting a major tournament can have a knock-on effect.

“To be honest, I think it would let us have a taste of that dream we’re having and see what was once seen as impossible actually become a reality and we can envision it together, doing this for the women and for the children and for the world,” she said.

“If we take a step back and see what last summer did with women’s football all over the world, in Australia for example, the number of girls playing football really increased and the country came together. Even with England and the Euros, more coaches were made and more coaches got into the field, and I think if that were to happen to Saudi Arabia, I think the growth and development we would see would be just great.”

In January, the Saudi women's team won a four-team Women’s International Friendly Tournament in the Eastern Province, the first international tournament played by a Saudi women's team.

Now under the guidance of Lluis Cortes, the former Barcelona Femeni and Ukraine women's national team coach who replaced Monika Staab, Sadagah believes Saudi Arabia, currently 171st in the Fifa Rankings, can scale new heights.

“Honestly as a fan of Barcelona and as a fan of Barcelona women’s [team], it makes me really happy and it makes me really excited as a player to be able to learn from someone where I was inspired by their own players," said Sadagah.

"Knowing that football is, I believe, the greatest show ever, being able to see what you were once inspired with, watching it and learning from it, it’s just really amazing and I think it would be a great contribution to the Saudi national team.”

Updated: January 04, 2024, 7:14 AM