Anachronistic Saudi Winter Games

PThe Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, best known for its deserts and extreme heat, was chosen on October 4 to organize the 2029 Pan-Asian Winter Games. That the sum of these two pieces of information evokes cognitive dissonance will come as no surprise. Especially not in connection with the controversies that are already circling around the next football World Cup, which will be played in air-conditioned open-air stadiums on the soil of another country on the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar, in the autumn.

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China paved all-artificial snow for the first time during the Beijing Winter Olympics in February. The kingdom pushes the absurd even further with planned skiing and speed skating events. While it can snow in Saudi Arabia, the excitement the rare snowflakes cause is a testament to their extreme rarity.

This Asian Winter Games takes place in Tabouk Province, which borders Jordan and is washed by the Red Sea. It lies on the Strait of Tiran that separates it from the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh. The next COP27 on climate change will take place in the latter in November. Delegates rushing there can discuss this Saudi parable at their leisure. It perfectly illustrates the systematic subordination of environmental issues to imperatives of power and prestige.

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A year ago, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia launched a “Green Initiative” to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. These included planting billions of trees, massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and virtually doubling the kingdom’s protected areas, including in Tabouk province. On September 24, the Saudi delegate to the United Nations General Assembly in New York reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the fight against global warming.

The lever of money

Clearly, according to Saudi logic, these laudable goals remain compatible with the ecological affront that the preparation and conduct of the Asian Winter Games will represent. Your organization is thus pursuing a goal that has nothing to do with sport and even less with ecology. It aims to promote a project dear to the heart of Riyadh’s strongman, recently promoted Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman: the ex nihilo founding of a futuristic city of Neom in this province of Tabouk.

Mohammed Ben Salman, whose reputation remains tarnished by the assassination and dismemberment of dissident Jamal Khashoggi, is indeed trying, several decades late, to copy the UAE’s most conspicuous city, Dubai. There is no better way to express the anachronism of a project whose linguistic elements refer to the inimitable jargon of international strategy consultancies.

Unfortunately, one can imagine that a potentate’s hubris would lead him to accept the prospect of the Winter Games in the middle of the desert. On the other hand, it is unfortunate that the leverage of money is leading the organizing committees of such events to rid themselves of any other consideration, remaining deaf and blind to awareness in societies of the ever-increasing costs of climate disruption and what is driving her at. These drifts are dead ends. It should be detected as soon as possible.

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