From Formula One to Ronaldo – Saudi Arabia is moving up the global sports map

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Riyadh (AFP) – Saudi club Al-Nasr have pulled off a footballing surprise by signing Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo, in a move that comes as part of a series of moves Saudi Arabia is making to advance on the global sporting map.

The wealthy Gulf kingdom is pumping millions of dollars into organizing international sporting events to change its conservative image in the world. This comes within the framework of an unprecedented campaign to achieve great social openness.

The following is an overview of the major steps the Kingdom has taken to become a major player in sports:

– winter sports –

Last October, Saudi Arabia was chosen to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games on its soil in the giant futuristic city of Neom.

A photo distributed by the Neum city administration on July 26, 2022 showing the design plan for the two parallel structures known as “The Line” in the heart of Neum city on the Red Sea coast. © – / NEOM/AFP

This winter competition will be organized for “NEOM”, which is still under construction in the mountainous desert of Trogina, northwest of the oil-rich Gulf state, in a move criticized by environmental organizations.

Five years later, the capital, Riyadh, will host the 2034 Asian Games.

And Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal confirmed in an interview with AFP last August that hosting the Olympics is “the goal”.

– Formula One-

In 2021, the Kingdom hosted a prize in the Formula One World Championship for the first time in the coastal city of Jeddah.

And last year, an attack by the Houthi rebels on a Saudi oil plant led to a huge fire near the Formula One track in Jeddah (west) during one of the test periods.

Saudi Arabia is engaged in a bloody conflict in Yemen in support of the internationally recognized government in the face of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

– soccer-

In October 2021, a consortium backed by Saudi Arabia bought English club Newcastle, in a move that sparked wild celebrations for its supporters, to the extent that some of them waved the Saudi flag in front of the St. James Park stadium in north-east England.

Newcastle fans celebrate the club's purchase by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia outside St James' Park on October 7, 2021.
Newcastle fans celebrate the club’s purchase by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia outside St James’ Park on October 7, 2021. © – /ap/ap

Newcastle are now in third place in the domestic league, having faltered in recent years.

The Kingdom will host the 2027 Asian Cup and hopes to host the Asian Women’s Cup in 2026. Saudi Arabia is currently in talks with Egypt and Greece over an attempt to submit a joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup.

– golf-

Professional golf was influenced by the emergence of Live Golf, a Saudi-funded breakout league that attracted stars from the US PGA Tour with a staggering $25 million in prize money per tournament.

The fledgling and controversial league achieved initial success. Despite fierce opposition from the American and European leagues and their refusal to allow their players to participate, LIV Golf attracted 16 players from the top 100.

One of the rounds of the league, which is organized in limited stadiums and in a unique format, was held for the first time in Saudi Arabia, with the participation of game poles such as Australian Cameron Smith and American Dustin Johnson, in a stadium outside the coastal city of Jeddah on the Red Sea.

Johnson, the biggest beneficiary, collected nearly $35 million in total prize money in the first season — on top of $150 million just for agreeing to play.

The LIV League will expand its 54-hole series this year with an international schedule of 14 world championships and $405 million in prize money.

– box-

Last August, the Kingdom hosted the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship between Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk, who won the title at the expense of Britain’s Anthony Joshua.

Joshua previously competed in a 2019 bout where he defeated American Andy Ruiz at King Abdullah Sports City. Joshua earned huge sums of money both times and rejected criticism of “sports laundry”.

– rally-

The Dakar Rally 2023 kicked off from Saudi Arabia for the fourth time on December 31. And it started to be organized in the Kingdom in 2020.

The Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah won the second stage of the Dakar Rally and is second in the overall standings, behind the Spaniard Carlos Sainz.
The Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah won the second stage of the Dakar Rally and is second in the overall standings, behind the Spaniard Carlos Sainz. © Frank Fife/AFP/AFP

Last year’s blast targeted Frenchman Philippe Boutron, who was seriously injured during the 2022 edition. Five others also rode in the car.

– cricket-

Oil giant Saudi Aramco has reached an agreement with the federation to sponsor a number of major cricket tournaments around the world.

– Drive-

Saudi Arabia started organizing the Saudi Equestrian Cup with a prize of $20 million, the most expensive in the world. The third edition was held last year. Two Saudi-owned horses have won the last two editions.

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