Our ultimate Is To Host Olympic Games, Saudi’s Sports Minister

 

By Our Reporter

Rejects sportswashing allegations

Saudi Arabia is looking in the investment in sports is as a significant part of the oil-rich country’s Vision 2030 strategy to diversify its economy away from oil.

As a result, the country is staging numerous sporting events and expanding the state-controlled Public Investment Fund’s (PIF) portfolio overseas. The heavyweight boxing clash between Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk and Britain’s Anthony Joshua, the latest of sporting events hosted in the country, was the backdrop to Saudi’s ambitions

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal Al Saud, the Saudi Arabia’s Sports Minister and the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee President, was deadpan when he said that hosting the Olympic Games is the country’s “ultimate goal” as he rejected claims of sportswashing.

“Investment in sports is a significant part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy to diversify its economy away from oil, leading to the country staging numerous sporting events and expanding the state-controlled Public Investment Fund’s (PIF) portfolio overseas”.

He expressed that the 2034 Asian Games, which it will hold for the first time in Riyadh, is their “main focus” right now, but it could lead to Saudi Arabia hosting a future edition of the Summer Olympics.

“We’re open to discuss with the IOC about this [Olympics] for the future,” he said.

“I think Saudi Arabia has showcased that we can host such events.

“Definitely, the Olympics would be an ultimate goal for us… But we’re open to that and I think we can.”

Staging the Olympics for the first time would be the biggest accomplishment since Saudi Arabia began its drive to hold several different types of sporting events.

Aside the numerous professional boxing events held in Saudi Arabia (last Saturday Usyk’s triumph over Joshua included) nation successfully managed to host a Formula One Grand Prix and has become a prominent player in sports.

Riyadh is due to host next year’s World Combat Games and the 2025 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games.

In football, Saudi Arabia has bid for the 2027 Asian Cup and 2026 Women’s Asian Cup.

The country is also bidding for the 2029 Asian Winter Games, with Trojena proposed as the venue.

However, the planned ski resort is yet to be built and it is part of the large-scale Neom construction project.

The FIFA World Cup is believed to be one of Saudi Arabia’s long-term ambitions and it could launch a joint bid with Egypt following a meeting between Prince Abdulaziz and Egyptian Sports Minster Ashraf Sobhi.

Italy was originally touted as a potential co-host, but they have diverted attention to the 2032 UEFA European Championship.

Critics alleged that the country, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, is sportswashing by using sport as a vehicle to distract people from its human rights record.

The alleged state-ordered assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s role in the bombings in Yemen, harsh restrictions on women’s rights and freedom of speech, and its use of the death penalty are among the examples of human rights abuses.

Homosexuality is also illegal in the country.

Human rights activist Salma al Shehab, who is also a doctoral student in Britain, has recently been sentenced to 34 years in prison in Saudi Arabia over tweets calling for reforms and the release of prominent activists, clerics and other intellectuals in the country.

 

The 34-year-old Saudi citizen was originally arrested in January last year while on holiday in the Kingdom and was handed a three-year prison sentence for using the internet to “cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security”.

However, a new sentence was given on August 15 after an appeals court was asked to consider other alleged crimes.

Human rights groups have claimed that Al Shehab’s sentencing proves Saudi Arabia is lying about improving women’s rights and the situation is in fact getting worse.

On the subject of sportswashing, Prince Abdulaziz argued that the country is changing.

“We’re progressing, we’re moving towards a better society, we’re moving towards a better quality of life, a better country, for the future,” he said.

“And the facts show that hosting these events benefit our people and benefit these changes that are happening and benefits living in Saudi.”

A part of Saudi Arabia’s alleged sportswashing is its substantial investment abroad through the PIF, such as buying English Premier League club Newcastle United and financing the controversial LIV Golf tour.

The PGA Tour has handed suspensions to several high-profile players that have opted to join the new golf series, which is offering increased prize money and has subsequently attracted the likes of Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson of the United States.

Prince Abdulaziz remarked that he was not expecting the backlash to LIV.

“Not really, honestly,” he said.

“I think that if there’s a benefit for the sport, then why not, whoever does it.

“If it benefits the athletes, if it benefits the sport, attracts more attention to the sport, attracts more people that want to participate in the sport, that will grow the sport for everyone.”

 

 

 

 

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