Global Climate: Winter Sports in Saudi Arabia?
An unproven concept except for the surveillance aspect.
- Temperatures in north-western Saudi Arabia seldom drop below 8 °C. But that hasn't prevented Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from envisioning the country competing for winter sports tourism.
- Saudi Arabia’s winter sports bid is part of a big-splash effort to establish itself as the Gulf’s foremost player in international sports – a position so far occupied by Qatar.
- Mohammed bin Salman's vision of Saudi Arabia as the world’s latest top-of-the-line winter sports destination attracts headlines but has yet to be proven as a concept.
- Mohammed bin Salman plans to include winter sports in his $500 billion Neom fantasia – a futuristic new city and tourism destination along the Red Sea in a mostly unpopulated part of the kingdom.
- In Mohammed bin Salman's mind, Neom will likely not only be an example of artificial intelligence increasing life's conveniences but also the creation of the perfect surveillance state.
Average temperatures in north-western Saudi Arabia seldom drop below 8 °C – except in the 2,400-meter high Sarawat mountains, where snow falls at best occasionally.
However, that hasn’t prevented Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from envisioning Saudi Arabia as competing for winter sports tourism.
The kingdom would do so by including winter sports in Mr. Bin Salman’s $500 billion Neom fantasia — a futuristic new city and tourism destination along the Red Sea in a mostly unpopulated part of the kingdom.
A project on paper
In the latest mind-boggling Neom-related announcement, Saudi Arabia’s Olympic committee said it was bidding to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games in the city.
The city is essentially still a project on paper that has a science-fiction feel to it, in a country that has no winter sports facilities and whose plans so far envisioned only ones that would be indoors.
The games would be held at Trojena, a yet-to-be-built resort on mountain peaks overlooking Neom, which is slated to be home to 7,000 people by 2026 and annually attract 700,000 visitors. Trojena would be the Gulf’s first outdoor ski resort.
Powered by renewable energy, Trojena expects to create an outdoor ski slope by blasting artificial snow at the mountains.
Plans for the resort also include a ski village, luxurious family and wellness facilities, the region’s largest freshwater lake and an interactive nature reserve. Trojena would also feature a yoga retreat and an art and entertainment residency.
A seamless travel experience
At least 32 Asian nations compete in the Asian games that include alpine skiing, ice hockey, biathlon, cross-country skiing and figure skating competitions.
The project is all the more remarkable as Saudi Arabia only sent its first winter Olympics team to the Beijing games in February 2022, where Fayik Abdi ranked number 44 in the men’s giant slalom.
Buying international sports
The winter sports bid is part of a big-splash Saudi effort to establish itself as the Gulf’s foremost player in international sports — a position so far occupied by Qatar with its hosting of this year’s World Cup and the United Arab Emirates. Both own European soccer clubs.
Saudi Arabia recently bought English Premier League club Newcastle United. It also sparked controversy by attracting with vast sums of money some of the world’s top golf players to compete in a new tournament that kicked off in one of former U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s resorts.
Tiger Woods reportedly turned down a $700 to 800 million offer to join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series. However, others, including Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, have jumped on the Saudi bandwagon.
Saudi Arabia has also signed a 10-year, $650 million deal for a Formula One motor racing event, and partnered with World Wrestling Entertainment for annual shows. It also hosted the world heavyweight championship rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.
A Messi affair
Less than a year after signing with Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain, soccer superstar Lionel Messi has emerged as the tourism ambassador for the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah.
Families of activists and dissidents imprisoned in Saudi Arabia unsuccessfully tried to persuade Mr. Messi not to engage with the kingdom. “If you say ‘yes’ to Visit Saudi, you are in effect saying yes to all the human rights abuses that take place today in modern Saudi Arabia,” they said in a letter to the player.
A Saudi national and former Twitter employee is currently on trial in the United States for spying on Saudi users of the social media platform for the kingdom.
Areej Al-Sadhan said the information potentially provided by the former employee may have led to the arrest of her brother Abdulrahman Al-Sadhan because of his satiric social media posts. Mr. Al-Sadhan was tortured and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Saudi officials killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018 in what the kingdom has said was an unauthorized rogue operation. However, others, including U.S. intelligence, assert that it was anything but.
Reaching for the sky
Adding to Neom’s futurism, Saudi sources said last month that the city, funded by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, would be home to the world’s largest buildings, twin 500-meter-tall skyscrapers dubbed The Line that would stretch horizontally for dozens of miles.
By 2030, Mr. bin Salman expects some 1.5 million people to live in the skyscrapers.
The perfect surveillance state
In Mr. bin Salman’s mind, Neom – derived from the Latin word neo for new and the first letter of the Arabic word for future, Mustaqbal, and built with advanced smart city technologies – will likely not only be an example of artificial intelligence increasing life’s conveniences but also the creation of the perfect surveillance state.
Speaking to Bloomberg in 2017, Mr. Bin Salman envisioned residents and visitors managing their lives with just one app. Mr. Bin Salman said the city would have no supermarkets because everything would be delivered.
Mr. bin Salman envisioned:
Everything will have a link to artificial intelligence, to the Internet of Things — everything. Your medical file will be connected with your home supply, with your car, linked to your family, linked to your other files, and the system develops itself in how to provide you with better things.
“Today all the clouds available are separate — the car is by itself, the Apple watch is by itself, everything is by itself. There, everything will be connected. So, nobody can live in Neom without the Neom application we’ll have — or visit Neom,” he added.
Mr. bin Salman’s vision of Saudi Arabia as the world’s latest top-of-the-line winter sports destination attracts headlines but has yet to be proven as a concept.
That is true for much of the futurism embedded in plans for Neom except for the surveillance state. That is already a reality in various parts of the world.