Soccer’s World Cup will be staged in six countries on three continents in its centenary edition in 2030, an unexpected and complex alteration to its traditional format that was approved on Wednesday in a meeting of FIFA’s governing council.
In the unusual arrangement, three South American countries — Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay — each will host a single opening match on home soil and then join the rest of the field for the remainder of the tournament, which will take place in Spain, Portugal and Morocco.
The six countries had initially joined forces regionally in separate bids for the hosting rights to the 100th anniversary World Cup, a globe-stopping, monthlong soccer festival that produces billions of dollars in revenue for FIFA every four years.
The offer from the South American nations had long been considered an outsider, however, to the three-nation bid from Spain, Portugal and Morocco, which was officially declared the sole bidder for 2030 on Wednesday. But under the new arrangement to recognize the tournament’s centenary, each nation will get to take a turn as a host.
“In 2030, the FIFA World Cup will unite three continents and six countries, inviting the entire world to join in the celebration of the beautiful game, the centenary and the FIFA World Cup itself,” FIFA said in a statement after the meeting.
“The FIFA Council unanimously agreed that the sole candidacy will be the combined bid of Morocco, Portugal, and Spain, which will host the event in 2030 and qualify automatically.”
In sharing the 2030 tournament among three continents, FIFA also significantly narrowed the field of nations eligible to bid for the 2034 event. That opened the door for Saudi Arabia, a nation that has made no secret of wanting to host, to win the rights when that host is selected next year.
The first World Cup was held in 1930 in Uruguay, when the championship was a compact, 13-team affair held over two-and-a-half weeks in a single city, the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo. It has since grown to be one of the most valuable and most watched sporting events in the world, a financial juggernaut that FIFA projects will produce record revenues of at least $11 billion for its current four-year cycle, almost double what it earned in the last one.
The complexity and size of the World Cup has grown steadily in recent decades, with the next edition — in 2026 — expanded by 12 teams to 48 in total, making it the largest in history. That size, and FIFA’s exacting requirements for bidding countries and stadiums, mean that few nations are now capable of staging the event alone.
The 2026 tournament will take place mostly in the United States, but games also will be staged in Mexico and Canada — the first time the tournament will be played in three countries. The complexities of holding that event have yet to be worked out, and officials are still grappling with a wide range of complications, ranging from visa-free travel for spectators to taxation.
Speculation that FIFA was preparing to make a surprise announcement was tipped by the South American soccer head Alejandro Dominguez, a FIFA vice president, who took to social media as the meeting was taking place to post a video of himself dancing, suggesting in Spanish “something global is coming for all football fans.”
Dominguez then broke the news in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, before FIFA had a chance to make its announcement.
“We believed in big,” Dominguez wrote in Spanish. “The 2030 Centennial World Cup begins where it all began.”
Taking the tournament to all six countries allows FIFA and its president, Gianni Infantino, to avert some difficult political choices, and could allow Infantino to deliver the next tournament to a reliable ally. In FIFA’s statement announcing the plans for 2030, it said that only teams from Asia and Oceania could bid in 2034 — creating an opportunity for one of his closest backers, Saudi Arabia, to secure a tournament, and a global stage, that it covets.
Within an hour of FIFA’s announcement, the Saudi press agency had published a statement from the kingdom’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, expressing his country’s interest in hosting in 2034, and the president of the Asian soccer confederation had thrown his support behind the effort, declaring “the entire Asian football family will stand united in support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s momentous initiative.”
FIFA said that bidding for the 2034 World Cup would conclude with a vote at a meeting of its 211 member nations next year, short-circuiting a process that had been expected to conclude in 2027 or 2028. The shorter timeline reduces the time for other nations considering bidding for the tournament to put together coherent plans.
Infantino, elected to FIFA’s top position in 2016, will now have the chance to leave his imprint on least two more World Cups, include the 2034 event, which will take place after his final term in office is supposed to have ended.
His legacy already includes major changes to the World Cup, with 48 teams, resulting in a change in the competition’s format, as well as clearing the way for more than two countries to co-host. Infantino had wanted to stage the World Cup biennially, but that effort ended amid bitter opposition from European soccer officials as well as top clubs and fans.
Fans groups were quick to oppose the plans for the multicontinent 2030 World Cup on Wednesday.
“FIFA continues its cycle of destruction against the greatest tournament on earth,” one umbrella group called Football Supporters Europe posted on X. “Horrendous for supporters, disregards the environment and rolls the red carpet out to a host for 2034 with an appalling human rights record. It’s the end of the World Cup as we know it.”
The 2030 championship will now start with an opening ceremony at the Estadio Centenario in Uruguay, the site of the 1930 final, and stadiums in Buenos Aires and Asunción, Paraguay.
The three nations and their opponents would have to travel to Spain, Portugal or Morocco to continue with the rest of the tournament.