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HomeSportsExplained: How Saudi Arabia became a dominant force in global sports

Explained: How Saudi Arabia became a dominant force in global sports

In what’s a historic transfer for Saudi Arabia, the Center Japanese nation has been named because the lone bidder for the 2034 World Cup on Tuesday. The most recent growth follows a string of high-profile sports activities acquisitions.

The conservative Gulf monarchy, usually criticised over its human rights document, is making an attempt to burnish its picture and appeal to vacationers and funding because it tries to diversify its financial system away from oil. Nevertheless, it’s the oil cash that’s fuelling the Arab nation’s progress within the sporting world.

Saudi Arabia’s try and increase its sporting footprint has usually been branded as ‘sportswashing’ within the Western media. Nonetheless, the Crow Prince Mohammed bin Salman-led nation is swiftly turning into a significant participant in sports activities.

We check out among the strikes which have turned Saudi Arabia right into a dominant power in sports activities:

Winter Video games in desert

Saudi Arabia, a principally desert nation the place summer time temperatures contact 50 levels Celsius (122 levels Fahrenheit), raised eyebrows final October when it was chosen to host the 2029 Asian Winter Video games.

The occasion, which has already earned the wrath of environmental campaigners, will probably be held at NEOM, an under-construction $500 billion megacity that’s planning a year-round winter sports activities advanced.

5 years later, the identical yr because the World Cup, the capital Riyadh will placed on the 2034 Asian Video games, an Olympic-sized multi-sports occasion. Internet hosting an Olympics is the dominion’s “ultimate goal”, Sports activities Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal instructed AFP final August.

System 1 in Jeddah

The glitzy world of F1 zoomed in to Jeddah, the Purple Sea metropolis that may be a gateway for pilgrims to Mecca, in 2021 with an evening race flanking the shoreline. It’s one in every of 4 grands prix to be held within the rich Gulf this yr.

The 2022 version was overshadowed by an assault by Huthi rebels from Yemen, Saudi’s war-torn neighbour, that left oil amenities belching black smoke nearby of the circuit throughout follow classes.

Soccer and Ronaldo

Saudi Arabian golf equipment — backed by the Public Funding Fund sovereign wealth car — have been on a rare shopping for spree this yr, beginning with Al-Nassr’s signing of Cristiano Ronaldo in January on a two-and-a-half-year deal stated to complete 400 million euros.

It opened the floodgates, with Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema becoming a member of Al-Ittihad, Neymar leaving Qatar-owned Paris Saint-German for Al-Hilal and a stream of different late-career stars making their strategy to the Saudi Professional League.

Cristiano Ronaldo is the most important footballer to maneuver to Saudi Arabia. AFP

In October 2021, nicely earlier than the Professional League’s acquisitions, a Saudi-funded consortium accomplished its takeover of English Premier League membership Newcastle United following a protracted wrangle with regulators.

Followers of the long-time “sleeping giant”, who had been at odds with the earlier proprietor for years, celebrated by donning Arab headdresses at St. James’s Park stadium. Newcastle have since loved a raise in fortunes, qualifying for this season’s Champions League.

In the meantime Saudi Arabia will host the Membership World Cup on the finish of December in addition to the 2027 Asian Cup, now a gown rehearsal for the World Cup. It is usually bidding to carry the ladies’s Asian Cup in 2026.

LIV Golf revolution

Saudi cash has modified the face {of professional} golf after the upstart LIV Golf, following a authorized battle with the established US PGA and European excursions, introduced a shock merger with its rivals in June.

The deal, which is because of be finalised on the finish of December, follows a two-year civil battle after LIV poached gamers for enormous sums, prompting the US and European circuits to rule them ineligible for sure tournaments together with, within the case of Europe, the Ryder Cup.

Former world primary Dustin Johnson has been one of many prime beneficiaries, scooping $35 million in prize cash within the inaugural season — on high of a reported $150 million only for agreeing to play.

When world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury gained a split-decision in a non-title bout with MMA star Francis Ngannou on Saturday, it was simply the most recent high-profile struggle in Saudi Arabia.

Anthony Joshua, one other British heavyweight, has fought twice in Saudi, incomes a giant payday every time whereas swatting off criticism over alleged sportswashing.

Joshua gained his revenge match in opposition to America’s Andy Ruiz in King Abdullah Sports activities Metropolis in December 2019, earlier than returning in August final yr when he was outclassed by Ukrainian maestro Oleksandr Usyk.

This yr’s Subsequent Gen ATP Finals, that includes the most well liked younger males’s gamers, will probably be performed in Jeddah in December. Saudi Arabia was additionally reported to be the front-runner to host this yr’s WTA Finals earlier than Cancun in Mexico was named because the organiser.

Final yr Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil exporter and one in every of its richest corporations, launched into a sponsorship of main occasions organised by the Worldwide Cricket Council, together with the lads’s and ladies’s one-day and T20 World Cups.

The Dakar Rally, initially raced between Paris and the Senegalese capital, has been held on Saudi Arabia’s unforgiving terrain since 2020.

Final yr’s version was plunged into controversy when French driver Philippe Boutron was significantly wounded in an explosion that French investigators stated was attributable to an improvised explosive machine stowed on his automotive.

Saudi Arabia has galloped to the fore in horse racing with the $20 million Saudi Cup, the world’s richest race. The 2021 and 2022 editions had been gained by Saudi-owned horses, together with 66-1 Emblem Street’s victory final yr. Japanese longshot Panthalassa gained this yr’s race in February.

With AFP inputs

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