Saudi Arabia is known for oil & gas prowess, investments in modern technology, renewable energy, and future mobility, among others.
But in sports, the kingdom is leaping above any dark clouds related to the Jamal Khashoggi controversy over his death in Istanbul, which Saudi is denying any government involvement in and is investigating to reveal who was behind the heinous crime.
Meanwhile, good vibes are stemming from the country’s welcoming with open arms sports venues and figures to arrive and quench the appetite for athletic competitions.
Long swings and short pars
Pádraig Peter Harrington, an Irish professional golfer who plays on the European Tour and the PGA Tour and winner of three major championships: The Open Championship in 2007 and 2008 and the PGA Championship, also in 2008, said a Saudi Arabian European Tour event could be a ‘positive force’ for the country, reports The independent.
European Tour officials announced that they would take the first golf event to the country for the first time during the circuit’s desert swing last March, which was confirmed as the official schedule for the 2019 season was just released.
“The European Tour, like a lot of people, are trying to build relationships around the world and looking to move forward,” Harrington said.
“There is no doubt by us being there it opens up society all the more, obviously that’s what the Saudis would like. They are trying to open up tourism, their society and the European Tour and other sporting occasions are part of bringing the world to them.”
High ranking professionals like Paul Casey, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, and Thomas Bjorn are all set to take part in the event which will take place from January 31 – February 3 at the newly built Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in the King Abdullah Economic City.
“I think the European Tour has taken the attitude at this stage they can be more of a positive force than a negative one,” added Harrington.
Wrestling down doubts
The US Tampa Bay Times said the WWE is set to hold its Crown Jewel event Friday in Riyadh, headlined by major stars including The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar.
WWE is expected to make between $20 million and $40 million per event from two Saudi shows this year under a 10-year deal.
“WWE has operated in the Middle East for nearly 20 years and has developed a sizable and dedicated fan base,” WWE said in a statement adding “the Company has decided to uphold its contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority and stage the event.”
WWE reported quarterly earnings, showing revenue of $188.4 million for the third quarter and a record $657.7 million over nine months, ending in September, said the US daily.
The Tampa Bay Times said a massive chunk of that cash is derived from the Saudi Arabia shows — and WWE has used the hefty checks to help lure retired Hall of Fame wrestler Shawn Michaels out of an eight-year retirement and fatten incentives for other talents.
“One of my biggest paydays was making a trip to Saudi Arabia,” WWE announcer Jim Ross said on his podcast. “I got paid very, very well.”
Saudi sportswomen in support of cancer patients
Al Arabiya English reported that 100 Saudi women have participated in a social initiative to support cancer patients under the slogan “Sports for Life” aimed at spreading awareness about cancer and ways to combat it.
The initiative is led by an American sports instructor, Tracy Aldreian, who became a Saudi national by marriage.
Sports as a uniting force
A year ago, there were 30 sports federations in Saudi, a number which has now doubled, according to Arab News.
These include ice hockey, sailing, and polo, while the newly inaugurated area Al-Qiddiya will host new sporting arenas as what is happening throughout the Kingdom.
Increasing participation in sports is a key area in Saudi Vision 2030.
“The country has got out of first gear, so to speak, and is now hosting big matches and races — from wrestling to football, from diving to sailing, and this December the inaugural Saudi Arabian Formula E race,” says Arab News.
The WWE event, the famous Royal Rumble, saw 60,000 people, including women, attend, earlier this year.
Straight after that, extravaganza wrestling clubs were flooded with children all wanting to be the next John Cena or Undertaker, according to Arab News.
“So it is no surprise to see the General Sports Authority looking to increase the number of high-profile stars coming to the Kingdom to inspire the population to get off the sofa and onto a sporting arena of some description, be it a football pitch or basketball court,” Arab News writes.
“Next month sees the latest addition to the Saudi Arabia sporting calendar with tennis legends Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic competing against each other in the King Salman Tennis Championship in Jeddah.”