The power of Saudi Arabia and its Olympic Games in autumn 2036: inspiration and debauchery
Juan Antonio Belmar
May 27, 2024

Saudi Arabia is going for an unprecedented goal for the Asian country: after the confirmation to host the 2034 World Cup, it wants to organize the 2036 Olympic Games for the first time. Countries in the Middle East and West Asia lived in their own underworld for decades, without needing to look at what was going on around them. Their autonomy, their economic capacity, their culture, their religion and their vision of life were more than enough attributes to govern and establish their own priorities; moreover, they were and are key to the development and economy of the five continents. But globalization marked a before and after to get out of this ostracism and sport is no stranger to this new reality. Its various global athletic bets have led, among other things, to the fact that an icon in the history of sport – such as Cristiano Ronaldo – resides and plays there.

When the Croatian Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, president of the Future Venues Commission, assured to be “satisfied with the number of interested parties, which amounts to double digits”, immediately, without leaving room for reflection, some countries appeared to be interested in principle in organizing the 2036 Olympic Games, a venue that will be defined no earlier than 2026. Strictly speaking, the cities interested in hosting the Olympic Games have two years to submit a detailed proposal that includes sports infrastructure, accommodation, transportation, security, sustainability and other relevant aspects, therefore, the candidates have the necessary time to put together a powerful presentation that is viable for the authorities and voters of the International Olympic Committee.

In light of the latest developments and after Saudi Arabia was ratified as the host of the 2034 World Cup by FIFA, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman asked his local authorities to continue in this line with the sport and go for the biggest dream of all: to formally bid for the 2036 Olympics. The crown prince knows that the mission is complex, he has no sports history at the Olympic Games, he has only four medals (two silver and two bronze). In fact, they are below small countries such as Singapore or Suriname, to name just a few, which surpass the Saudis in the historical tally of medals.

George Groves in Jeddah (TGSPhoto/Shutterstock)

FROM RIVAL TO QATAR… AND THE THERMOMETER

Qatar (15 times smaller in population), their main rival in the Arab world around the Persian Gulf, has twice as many medals (8) and two gold medals. Another major difficulty is the weather, the high temperatures are a major impediment to the voters’ decision to choose the host city. But, President Thomas Bach, left an open or very open door, noting “we have never had so much interest in organizing the Games, with 12, sometimes 16 years in advance, so the IOC has to adapt to environmental and technological challenges, and we do not rule out new scenarios, such as a Games in autumn (boreal)”.

Without answering tacitly the IOC feels that the change of season from the traditional summer Games to autumn is an absolutely valid option in the new airs of the International Olympic Committee. But, there is another protagonist that is still in the quest to have the 2036 Olympics, in fact, hosted the 2022 World Cup: Qatar sounds strong. It was already a candidate at some point for the Olympics, which in the end Brisbane won for 2032.

No one is unaware of the economic power of the Arab countries, particularly the Saudis. In the last decade they have made a strong entry into the elite of high performance sport, adding competitions that traditionally it would have been unthinkable to imagine that they could migrate to the Middle East. The Saudi League, today, is gaining ground faster than soccer in the United States, which has not made headway for several decades, despite the media coverage it receives. The LIV Golf or Super Golf League is another proof of this universal democratization of golf, in addition to the PGA, which had the hegemony of this sport. In this diverse portfolio of annual events of the Saudis, Formula 1, tennis, horseback riding, boxing, swimming and athletics are added…

THE FUTURISTIC CITY OF NEOM

It would take too long to list the number of sporting events organized and sponsored by Saudi Arabia. To go no further, in 2029 it will host the Asian Games in the province of Tabuk where the Neom megaproject is being built, including a futuristic city that promises to be environmentally friendly as it will be powered entirely by renewable energy and will be available for the games. NEOM’s investment is in the region of $500 billion.

Cam Smith and Matt Jones of Ripper GC (Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Shutterstock)

While I develop this editorial I continue with an internal and value discussion, which contrasts with the latest definitions of the IOC in relation to make and organize a much more austere Olympic Games and that do not jeopardize the economic stability of a country, aims with this decision to reduce up to 80% the costs for the Brisbane Olympics. The costs of a Games go hand in hand with the interests of each host city and country to host the Olympic Games.

Does the economic and development reality play in favor or against Saudi Arabia? Let’s see, if the authorities of the International Olympic Committee seek to curb the unbridled and unbridled gigantism, their theory remains valid, of being an entity without prejudice that it is not their economic heritage that is at stake. But if a country as a whole understands that it is the great opportunity to produce transformations in a city and that it allows a development in all its areas, and duly assumes that the investment is fully justified, the IOC cannot decide on the different legacies left by the Olympic Games.

THE CLEAR EXAMPLE OF BARCELONA

Just one piece of information to complement this analysis: when Barcelona 92 was awarded the Games on October 17, 1986, it took on a great challenge as a country and a city: to turn Barcelona into the capital of Spanish tourism (Spain is one of the three most touristic countries in the world every year) and it made all the necessary investment to achieve this goal. Almost 22 years have passed and Barcelona is a cosmopolitan, cultural and touristic city par excellence, that is to say; the Barcelona 92 Olympic Games fully accomplished its mission.

(L) Silver medalist Saudi Arabia’s Tareg Hamedi. (Keizo Mori/UPI/Shutterstock)

Saudi Arabia’s intention to bid for the 2036 Olympic Games is a legitimate option, with more than enough to go around, sports history is not a determining factor in the decision making of IOC members. These authorities – on the principle of universality – seek to choose the best venue, even in times of austerity, sports infrastructure for competitions that are better and better to surpass previous records.

With just over two years to go to choose the host city for the 2036 Olympic Games, Paris 2024, Los Angeles 2028, Brisbane 2032 and, in 12 more years, why not aspire to have a Games in the Middle East and, even more, it does not sound far-fetched to imagine for the first time two host cities for a Games, Saudi Arabia – Qatar, even though Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, dreams of bringing the Games to his country and showing the world that sport is one of his main sources of inspiration.

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