With the increased Saudi attention on sports events recently, a link can be made between high-profile sports and how the Kingdom is perceived globally.
Countries all around the world know the importance of increasing their political influence and power through the engagement of cultural factors, which can help in swaying the international public’s opinion. This practice is part of the concept known as “soft power.” In a world that is changing rapidly thanks to technological advances and globalized ideas that are bringing people together more than ever before, there is a growing enthusiasm for soft power.
Every nation has its own plans as to how to successfully rise as a soft power through its work and policy goals. Here in Saudi Arabia, we have witnessed the start of new attempts aimed at increasing the Kingdom’s presence beyond its borders through several spheres, including cultural, sporting and social, educational, digital and, most importantly, governmental. The idea behind soft power is that, put simply, it should be soft. There is nothing extreme or hard about any of these factors.
According to the 2016 Soft Power index, which conducted a study of 30 countries, the top five were: The US, the UK, Germany, Canada, and France. The rankings were based on several of the indicators mentioned above. How does all of this apply to us in Saudi Arabia? Though the Kingdom is not listed on that index, it is rising as a soft power in the world. According to that study, it could take years and even generations to build soft power from scratch. However, the digital world is helping to take Saudi Arabia’s national voice and commitment on to the global stage.
In regards to entertainment and sport, Saudi Arabia now has an increased focus on hosting world-class events. Sport is a language spoken and loved by all, and the General Sports Authority has been excelling in bringing high-quality events to Saudi soil.
In the past year alone, we have welcomed the WWE, Formula E and so much more. On Wednesday, Jeddah hosted the Italian Super Cup at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium, bringing together the two Italian giants: Juventus and AC Milan. This was an unprecedented event. Sharing our culture with the world by opening our doors and welcoming people to come and share with us their simple love of football is massive; and at the same time it is an example of how we are achieving soft power by engaging with the world.
Soft power is not just political; it is the idea of sharing and understanding a country and its people through cultural and social practices. We have witnessed so many great examples of the Kingdom taking the nation’s image to a global stage, and the Saudi public has been very welcoming in sharing our love for our country through all of these events.
Sports are one of the many ways we have shared Saudi Arabia with the world and, just like we saw at the Italian Super Cup, in such a globalized world we are on the right path to increasing the Kingdom’s soft power internationally.
• Razan Farhan Alaqil is a political science, international comparative politics and global studies graduate. She is a Saudi youth representative at the United Nations, and a board member of the Saudi Federation of Mass Participation.