Saudi Arabia Hosts 2029 Asian Winter Games With $500 Billion Megacity Project

Saudi Arabia was designated as the host country for the 2029 Asian Winter Games on Tuesday, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) announced. The events will take place in Neom, a futuristic urban development in the north-west of the country, close to Jordan, Egypt and Israel. A new challenge awaits the Middle East after the soccer World Cup, which begins in a few weeks in Qatar.

“The deserts and mountains of Saudi Arabia will soon be a playground for winter sports,” the OCA said in a statement, adding that the decision was taken “unanimously” at its general assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. “I never thought that one day I would ski in my country,” responded Saudi alpine skier Fayik Abdile, quoted in the organization’s press release.

On the shores of the Red Sea

Located on the Red Sea coast, the Neom project, worth nearly $500 billion and backed by powerful Crown Prince Mohamed ben Salmane, has been the talk of the town since it was first announced in 2017. Asian Winter Games should be held precisely in Trojena, a mountainous sector of Neom “where temperatures drop below zero in winter and where temperatures are generally 10 degrees lower year-round,” the organizers claim on their website, without the theme to mention precipitation.

Trojena, which is due to be completed in four years, will include year-round ski slopes, an artificial freshwater lake, chalets, villas and luxury hotels, according to the same source. Mohammed ben Salmane, also CEO of Neom, promised with this project to “redefine mountain tourism in the world” while respecting the principles of ecotourism. For his part, Neom director Nadhmi al-Nasr reiterated that Trojena would be provided with “adequate infrastructures to create a winter atmosphere in the heart of the desert and make these Winter Games an unprecedented world event”.

However, architects and economists have questioned the feasibility of the project. According to the OCA, the Asian Winter Games will include competitions in skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey and figure skating with a total of 47 events, including 28 on snow and 19 on ice. Sporting events have multiplied in Saudi Arabia in recent years, which NGOs have accused of trying to divert attention from human rights abuses in the kingdom.

In a recent interview with AFP, Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal mentioned his country’s desire to one day organize the Olympic Games. An Egyptian official, meanwhile, said last month that Egypt, Greece and Saudi Arabia had started talks on a possible joint bid for the 2030 FIFA World Cup, where they specifically positioned themselves in a joint bid by Portugal, Spain and soon Ukraine.

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