Soccer-Too daunting to take on Saudis in 2034 World Cup bid, says Football Australia CEO

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Final - Argentina v France - Lusail Stadium, Lusail, Qatar - December 18, 2022 General view of Argentina's Lionel Messi lifting the trophy as he celebrates winning the World Cup REUTERS/Hannah Mckay/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Australia would have found it difficult to compete with Saudi Arabia's bid to host the 2034 men's World Cup, Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said on Tuesday after his country opted not to enter the race to stage the tournament.

Australia said in a statement earlier in the day it would not make a bid for soccer's global showpiece on the day of FIFA's deadline for bids from Asia and Oceania, leaving Saudi Arabia as the sole candidate.

Johnson expressed dismay at having such a tight turnaround to explore hosting in 2034, with global soccer's governing body FIFA calling for bids on Oct. 4.

"It was a little bit of a surprise that it was going to be an earlier process, but look, we're adults and we've just tried to roll with it and deal with the cards that we've been given," he told reporters in a video conference call from Doha.

"Any decision I take for Australian football, I look at the strengths, the weaknesses, the opportunities and the threats," he added. "When I went through that process, I realised that we could have a shot, but I think at the end, the outcome was not going to be favourable to Australia...

"We have to be realistic, Saudi is a strong bid, they've got a lot of resources, not just resources relating to the 2034 men's World Cup, but they're disrupting European club football at the moment... their government top down, are prioritising the investment in football and that's difficult to compete with."

Johnson said Australia, who recently co-hosted the Women's World Cup with New Zealand, would instead focus on bids for the 2026 Women's Asian Cup and the 2029 Club World Cup.

"We think that we are positioned well ahead of both of those tournaments and if we are successful, it actually sets Australian football up for a really great 12 years," he said, referencing the 2032 Olympic Games to be held in Brisbane.

The president of the Asian Football Confederation, the sport's continental governing body to which Australia belongs, said "the entire Asian football family" would stand united in support of the Saudi bid.

Johnson added Australia would support Saudi Arabia's bid if they did indeed remain the sole candidate.

The 2026 men's World Cup will be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada. FIFA awarded the 2030 World Cup earlier this month to Morocco, Portugal and Spain, also adding centenary games in Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay.

(Reporting by Christian Radnedge, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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