Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games was “unanimously approved” by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA).
The international skiing and snowboarding events will be held at the $500 billion (£440bn) futuristic megacity known as the Neom project.
Trojena, an area of the Neom project, is to stage the event and according to its website: “Winter temperatures drop below zero Celsuis and year-round temperatures are generally ten degress cooler than the rest of the region.”
In recent years, Saudi Arabia have been accused of sportswashing - using high-profile events to boost its international image and divert attention from its human-rights record.
It has held several world-title boxing bouts - most recently Anthony Joshua’s second loss to Oleksandr Usyk - as well as hosting now three Formula 1 races and being the main investor in the LIV GolfTour. Its Public Investment Fund bought an 80% stake in Newcastle United last year as well.
What are the Asian Winter Games?
The AWG is an international multi-sport event held every four years for members of the Olympic Council of Asia. It was first held in 1986 in Sapporo, Japan, and has grown from having just seven member nations taking part to 32 nations competing in 2017.
While the next edition of the Games was supposed to take place in 2021, it was cancelled due to the pandemic with the 2029 edition now the next time the Games will take place.
The AWG includes alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, ice hockey, ski orienteering, short-track speed skating, ski jumping, snow boarding and speed skating.
Japan has been the most successful nation at the Asian Winter Games in history with a total of 397 medals, while China is second with 284.
What has been said?
The OCA said in a statement: “The deserts and mountains of Saudi Arabia will soon be a playground for winter sports.”
Meanwhile, the Saudi sports minister, Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal took to Twitter to say: “With the unlimited support by the Saudi leadership and HRH Crown Prince to the sport sector we are proud to announce we have won the bid to host AWG TROJENA 2029 as the first country in west Asia.”
However, Amnesty International UK’s economic affairs director, Peter Frankental, was not quite a positive as either the OCA or Saudi’s sports minister.
Frankental said: “Having already bought Newcastle United, bankrolled a new international golf tour and staged numerous high-profile sporting fixtures, it’s no surprise that Saudi Arabia is keen to stage the Asian Winter Olympics as yet another opportunity to sportswash its appalling human rights record.
“The Olympic Council of Asia must ensure that a Saudi-hosted winter games avoids contributing to further human rights violations in the country, including in the construction of stadia and other infrastructure.”
What is The Line and the Neom project?
The latest Saudi Arabia project is ‘The Line’: a 100 mile by 200 metre wide futuristic city within the ‘Neom Project’ and it is set to provide a future home for nine million people.
According to the Saudis, artificial intelligence will be central to how people live in the new 500-metre high structure which is set to be a car-free, carbon netural bubble with two parallel mirror-encased skyscrapers running down 105 miles of mountain and desert terrain.
It’s aim is to boast near total sustainability and a regulated microclimate with all residents set to have ‘daily needs’ reachable within a five-minute walk.
The Trojena development, which was announced in March 2022, is expected to be completed in 2026 and will offer outdoor skiing, a man-made freshwater lake as well as a nature reserve.