Sports

Is Saudi Arabia A Major Sporting Hub?

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With the city of Jeddah once again buzzing ahead of one of the most anticipated boxing rematches in history, one cannot help but notice how frequent such scenes are becoming in Saudi Arabia.

Whether it’s the highly anticipated bout between Oleksandr Usyuk and Anthony Joshua or another major sporting event altogether, the Kingdom is hosting more and more international sporting events across its country. 

All of this is part of Saudi Arabia’s wide-ranging economic transformation plan, Saudi Vision 2030. Launched in 2016, one of its goals was to establish the Kingdom as a regional hub for sporting events of the highest quality, enhancing their citizens’ lives and generating jobs for them.

As of today, Saudi Arabian Sports are indeed taking center stage in the Kingdom, following the trend of high-tech, entrepreneurial, and culturally driven industries. But what else does this change bring to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

Plans of Tourism

With just a few short years in the making, Saudi Arabia has already hosted some of the biggest sporting events worldwide, boosting employment, tourism, and hospitality. 

The launch of their e-visa in 2018 is only affirming this, allowing for tourism to blossom. As an area eager to be promoted by the Saudis, tourism is well underway to reach hosting 100 million tourists by 2030. Hosting major sporting events with a mixture of luxury resorts and full entertainment calendars is just one of the many benefits planned to make this dream a reality.

From the tarmacs of Formula One and the bumpy routes of the Dakar desert race to the Royal Greens Golf Country Club, Saudi Arabia has vastly improved upon its entertainment infrastructure and plans on adding more in the future.

For example, their successful bid to host the 2034 Asian games is a significant indicator of the long-term plans of the Kingdom to overhaul its overall national development. To add more, there are rumors of a possible bid to host the 2030 World Cup. 

Transforming the Role of Women in Sports

Another important part of their reform agenda is the role of women in sports. Developing several strategies to allow women in sports has included establishing a Women’s Football League and a Woman’s Regional Football League.

Even though women’s participation in sports is lower than that of men – 11.62% contrary to 32.6% (as totaled for 2019) – Saudi Arabia’s sports minister Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal stated, “We’ve seen an increase of active women participation in sports by about 149 percent from 2015 till today. Only five years ago, women were not allowed to participate in the street but it’s a completely different ball game today.” 

“By participating in athletic events, women achieve so much more,” Hala Al-Hamrani, founder of the first female boxing gym in Saudi Arabia, said. “The undercard and the government’s support is a big deal, showing that women’s involvement in the sport in any way is no longer taboo.” 

A Flurry of Sporting Events

The year 2018 was a significant year in the Kingdom regarding sporting events, championships, and tournaments. Callum Smith beat George Groves in Jeddah and won the WBA super-middleweight title and World Boxing Super Series crown, and the Ad Diriyah E-Prix is also in the books.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has hosted the Saudi Cup – the world’s richest horse race – the golf’s Saudi International, the Supercopa de Espana, the Supercoppa Italiana, the Championship for Parachuting, the Clash of Dunes between Joshua and Ruiz Jr., the Diriyah Tennis Cup and the Battle of the Champions BMX and skateboarding tournament. 

With some setbacks in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 followed with a major bang. The crowning glory – the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, had firmly established itself as the venue for international sports events. 

Hosting events is not all the Kingdom has contributed to sports. Young athletes from Saudi Arabia have also achieved significant victories, such as Tarek Hamdi winning silver in Karate at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, as well as impressive performances in the 2022 FIFA World cup.

As of now, the Kingdom is set on hosting the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2026, with the Asian Winter Games planned in 2029.

Conclusion

From past and present events to the future planned ones, Saudi Vision 2030 has a lot to offer in the world of sports. Its benefits even reach a positive knock-on effect on health and fitness activity uptake among the Saudi population, with a new survey revealing that almost half the population now practices physical activities at least 30 minutes a week. 

All of this goes to demonstrate the key milestones created by Vision 2030, aiming to build a vibrant and healthy society while contributing to the world of sports worldwide.

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