The Saudi Arabian Sports Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, has praised the value of making the kingdom a sports nation and a destination for world-class events.
Life in the Middle Eastern country has changed since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman initiated comprehensive reforms in April 2016 as part of the revolutionary “Vision 2030” plan. Sporting efforts are part of a strategic framework that aims to reduce reliance on oil and diversify the economy, as well as developing public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism.
Prince Abdulaziz became Saudi Arabia’s first sports minister in February. The accomplished racing driver, who took part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, GT Masters, GT3 and Formula BMW, previously held various positions in the General Sports Authority.
The 37-year-old was commissioned to create a lively sports scene at home and to change perception abroad. Boxer Anthony Joshua’s mega rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr., Formula E Diriyah ePrix, the Supercoppa Italiano, the expanded Supercopa de Espana, the Saudi International of Golf, and the $ 20 million Saudi Cup – the richest horse race the world – is at the top of a number of elite events that have been held successfully in recent years.
Another milestone will be reached in 2021 with the opening of the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix in Jeddah. This move has been met with skepticism by some international media, although Prince Abdulaziz believes a different stance will prevail once Saudi Arabia is firmly established as the premier international sporting event venue and attracting more people to attend major events.
“Hosting such events will help us to have different sports in the Kingdom and will increase the diversity and awareness of these sports which will hopefully lead to Saudis participating more in the future. We saw the first tourist visa due to the Formula E event (which took place in Riyadh in 2018), ”he said in a comprehensive interview for the latest episode of Frankly in Arabic news.
“It is powered by His Royal Highness the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) who basically believes in the power of sport to transform life in the Kingdom and to improve and improve the quality of life in the Kingdom as part of the Quality of Life Program the kingdom, ”he added.
With more than two-thirds of Saudi Arabia’s approximately 35 million population under 35, it is important that sport play an influential role in increasing activity and promoting a healthy lifestyle. Progress is being made towards the goal of 40 percent of the country exercising more than 30 minutes per week by 2030. An increase from 13 percent in 2015 to 20 percent this year is expected.
The Department of Sports also encouraged participation in a nation still “car culture” dominated and affected by obesity through television and online programming during the forced lockdown due to coronavirus.
“In the end, sport will be a tool that will benefit the people of Saudi Arabia and Inshallah to solve these problems that we have,” he said.
The benefits extend further to the economy.
Prince Abdulaziz estimated that the contribution to sports rose to SAR 6.5 billion (USD 1.7 billion) in 2019, almost tripling from the previous year’s SAR 2.4 billion (USD 640 million) figure. Saudi companies take over 90 percent of the sport-related business in the kingdom.
He said, “Some of them are now small and medium-sized companies, but within three years they can become large companies that not only organize and organize sporting events but also deal with entertainment, culture and other events.
“If you look at the hospitality industry, if you look at the number of hotels it operates, and if you look at the restaurants, transportation and all those things, you will benefit from these events that are taking place in Saudi Arabia occur. ”
Another pillar of the Vision 2030 strategy is the role of women. The number of women watching and participating in sports has increased dramatically, including the start of a women’s soccer league with 24 teams.
Prince Abdulaziz welcomed the progress made so far and insisted that further progress would be made “in the right way”.
He said: “All of the programs we run today at the Department of Sport and the Federation are all about diversity and inclusion.
“You are [women] Finding support from the players and their families too. Things change and things change for the better and we have to make sure it changes in the right way. “
He added: “In 2015 we didn’t have any female national teams. Today we have 23 national teams participating on behalf of the country. “
A separation between sport and politics is also of central importance. Participants from countries where Saudi Arabia does not have diplomatic relations would be welcome to the 2034 Asian Games, if their bid for the 2027 Asian Cup is successful.
“We have hosted many international and Asian events, and there are participants from countries with which we do not have diplomatic relations,” said Prince Fahad bin Jalawi bin Abdulaziz, Vice President of the Olympic Committee. “We’re talking about sports and athletes are definitely invited to come to Saudi Arabia.”
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