The hosting of the 2034 FIFA World Cup by Saudi Arabia was ominously inevitable.

In November, I sat at a smoky bar in a hotel in Doha with three Saudi football fans, savoring my country's stunning 2-1 victory over the future World Cup champions, Argentina. Dressed in green and white, they relished this incredible triumph while also enjoying the fact that the biggest stars of world football had gathered in the Middle East for the first time. "Wait," one of them said to me, "Saudi Arabia will be even better in 2030."

I laughed. It sounded like post-match arrogance that infects fans regardless of time and place. But no, my new friend insisted that there was already a plan for a joint bid with Egypt and Greece, where Riyadh would finance all the accompanying infrastructure in partner countries. It sounded ridiculously ambitious - the World Cup stretched across three continents (intersecting each of them).

Eventually, the folly happened just in time, albeit greatly amplified, and it turned out to be just a trifle before the money poured in. Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco will host the 2030 tournament, spanning the Atlantic, paving the way for Saudi Arabia to become the sole host of the 2034 World Cup. This was confirmed on Tuesday after potential rival Australia decided not to compete with the inevitable. "It is what it is," shrugged Football Australia CEO James Johnson.

The 2034 tournament, as insisted by the Secretary-General of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, Ibrahim Al-Kasim, will be a "force for good in football." This remains to be seen, though what it truly demonstrates is that the World Cup, the most popular sporting event in the world, was powerless to resist the same centrifugal forces that have already captured golf, Formula 1, boxing, cricket, WWE, and even the 2029 Asian Winter Games (a $500 billion mountain resort is being purpose-built). Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has invested over $1 trillion in sports and sports-related projects, according to Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports and geopolitical economy at Skema Business School in Paris. The Kingdom hosts chess, handball, racing, and even the world's first electric boat racing championship, known as E1.

"This is a shining example of sports washing," says Jules Boykoff, a professor specializing in the intersection of politics and sports at Pacific University in Oregon. "It stokes nationalism within the country, distracts from human rights issues, and seeks to win national prestige." Not that bin Salman has any doubts about this term. In September, he told Fox News, "If sports washing boosts my GDP by about 1%, then I will continue sports washing."

The capitulation of even football - the most profitable sport in the world with its own capital of around $600 billion - seemed sadly inevitable. Not that FIFA, the global governing body, put up much resistance. After FIFA opened the list of potential bidders for the 2034 tender in early October, Saudi Arabia announced its intention with great pomp in just a few minutes. Previous World Cup bids required a minimum of seven existing stadiums. By 2034, this requirement had been reduced to four, and Saudi Arabia had exactly that number. Then FIFA suddenly announced that competitors had only 25 days to declare their official interest, including securing the support of central and local authorities to host the event with 48 teams and a cost of billions of dollars across multiple cities. (Typically, decisions on bids are made three years in advance.)

The aura of inevitability extends even further. The "Visit Saudi Arabia" tourism campaign sponsored the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and the President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, Yasser Al-Misehal, was elected to the FIFA Council in February. According to Deloitte, the Saudi domestic professional league spent nearly a billion dollars in the summer transfer window, with standout players like Neymar joining Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo to trade in front of astonished crowds in half-empty stadiums.

Bin Salman claims that these sports investments contribute to the development of Saudi Arabia's tourism sector. However, the economic argument doesn't hold up, considering the colossal sums involved. In truth, ideology underpins these efforts. Bin Salman aims to rebrand his kingdom, situated at the intersection of the Afro-Eurasian world concept, while injecting some Western glamour that could lure the educated, technocratic diaspora of the kingdom back home. "Saudi Arabia is trying to position itself at the intersection of the Global North and Global South," says Chadwick.