- Saudi Arabia sports minister rejects criticism over kingdom’s human rights record
- Country looking to diversify oil-reliant economy
Saudi Arabia is open to hosting the Olympics Games, describing the event as the country’s “ultimate goal” in its expanding sports portfolio.
Seeking to diversify its economy beyond the oil industry, investing in sport has been earmarked as a key pillar by the kingdom’s Vision 2030 project. Notable efforts from Saudi Arabia in recent years include staging its first Formula One Grand Prix, as well as hosting next year’s World Combat Games and the 2034 Asian Games.
The country is also in the running for soccer’s 2027 Asian Cup and put on the world heavyweight boxing title fight between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua last weekend. The state’s Public Investment (PIF), meanwhile, has invested in LIV Golf and Newcastle United.
Speaking to media in Jeddah head of the Usyk-Joshua rematch, sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal (pictured above) said the Asian Games could be a precursor for a future Olympic bid.
“Our main focus now is the 2034 [Asian Games],” he said. “We’re open to discuss with the IOC about this [Olympics] for the future. 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.”
The Usyk-Joshua bout came a day after the United Nations (UN) human rights office (OHCHR) expressed outrage over the 34-year prison sentence handed down to doctoral student Salma al-Shehab in connection with a series of tweets and retweets on political and human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom has also been heavily criticised for various human rights offences committed by the state, including the war in Yemen, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the oppression of women and LGBTQ+ groups, as well as the alleged torture and disappearance of activists.
As a result, Saudi Arabia has been accused of sportswashing to distract from its various human rights violations. However, Prince Abdulaziz, insisted things were changing in the country.
“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.”
Prince Abdulaziz also addressed the opposition to LIV Golf, which has prompted a bitter power struggle and seen the US-based PGA Tour confirm it will suspend all players competing in the breakaway series. The 39-year-old admitted he hadn’t anticipated the uproar.
“Not really, honestly,” Prince Abdulaziz 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.”