Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk look set for a heavyweight showdown next year in Saudi, which also hosts the Asian Games in 2034. Anthony Joshua has already fought in Riyadh twice and the city has also hosted the F1 on two occasions.
Earlier this month, Saudi launched a bid to host the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup – a surprise move given the women’s football department was only established three years ago.
Of a potential Olympics 2036 bid, Prince Abdulaziz added: “I think we now have all that it takes to host any tournament that comes our way… I am not in a position to comment on specific bids, but I can tell you that we always keep an eye out on different events and sports properties that we could partner with.
“We were recently awarded the right to host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 and have also secured the 2034 Asian Games two years ago. Our focus now lies on building on our existing world-class infrastructure and preparing new ones for them.”
Under the Vision 2030 agenda championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, billions have already been spent on sport as the country attempts to diversify away from oil. “We’re incredibly ambitious in Saudi Arabia and as our country transforms thanks to His Royal Highness the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030, so will our sports landscape,” he said.
A World Cup or Olympics in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia would spark even more criticism than the 2010 vote which gave the green light for Qatar 2022. The UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights warned just weeks ago that “executions are taking place almost daily”. Saudi’s record on human rights has been condemned by Amnesty International. The state-involved killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi still casts a cloud over the Crown Prince’s authoritarian regime.
In response to allegations the country is attempting to “sportswash” its reputation, the sports minister says: “I understand the debate because of the amount we’re doing and how much we’ve achieved in the last five years. But I invite anyone interested in Saudi Arabia to come to our country and see what we’re doing for themselves…we’re working very hard at the Ministry of Sport to inspire our people to get involved with sport, whether on an amateur or professional level. Hosting international events forms just one part of what we are doing today.”
The nation’s heavy investment in sport is boosting activity levels in the grassroots and helping the country with an “ecosystem” to create jobs, he claimed. “Today, for example, the sports industry is providing opportunities to over 22,000 nationals.”