Hosting the Olympics is Saudi Arabia’s ‘ultimate goal’, says its sports minister

Saudi Arabia considers the organization of the Olympic Games as an “ultimate goal” in the framework of the expansion of major sporting events in the country, its Sports Minister told AFP, who rejected criticism of the human rights violations that weigh on the kingdom.

The investment in sports is part of a multi-pronged strategy approved six years ago to diversify the oil-dependent country’s economy under the leadership of 36-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz ben Turki Al-Faisal agreed to an interview with AFP ahead of Saturday’s heavyweight boxing match in Jeddah, in which Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk beat Briton Anthony Joshua on points. .

This is the latest event, highly publicized but controversial, organized in Saudi Arabia, in the same way as Formula 1 or the dissident LIV golf circuit, financed by Saudi funds.

In 2034, the capital Riyadh will host the Asian Games, a large-scale multi-sport event that could pave the way for a bid for the Summer Olympics, according to Prince Abdulaziz.

“Our main focus now is the 2034 (Asian Games),” which will take place two years after the 2032 Summer Olympics in Brisbane, Australia, he said.

“We are open to discuss it with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) in the future. I think Saudi Arabia has shown that it can host events like this. Without a doubt, the Olympic Games would be an ultimate goal for us,” he said.

The fight between Usyk and Joshua in Jeddah took place a day after criticism from the UN, which was “dismayed” by the sentence of a Saudi student to 34 years in prison for tweets critical of the government.

Saudi Arabia is often criticized for its human rights violations, such as its intense crackdown on dissenting voices, and is suspected over the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Various militants often accuse Saudi leaders of using major sporting events to divert attention from human rights violations, known as “money laundering through sport.”

But for Prince Abdulaziz these criticisms are unfounded: “We are progressing, we are evolving towards a better society, towards a better quality of life, a better country for the future,” he explained.

“And the facts show that hosting these events benefits our people and benefits those changes taking place” in Saudi society, he added.

Last year, Saudi Arabia joined F1 by holding a Grand Prix on its soil, and the Saudi Public Investment Fund finances LIV Golf, a new dissident series from the American PGA circuit, which has not ceased to attract players attracted by contracts of several million dollars.

Asked if he expected any hostile reactions to LIV Golf, Prince Abdulaziz replied: “Honestly no. I think if it benefits the sport then why not, it doesn’t matter who it’s made by,” he said.

“If that benefits the athletes, if that benefits the sport, if that brings more attention to the sport … it will advance the sport all over the world,” the prince said.

Saudi Arabia is also a candidate to host the Asian Soccer Cup in 2027 and its women’s version in 2026, as well as host the 2029 Asian Winter Games in NEOM, a futuristic megacity project on the Red Sea.


Hosting the Olympics is Saudi Arabia’s ‘ultimate goal’, says its sports minister