How Saudi Arabia is aiming to be home to the world’s biggest sporting events

Special How Saudi Arabia is aiming to be home to the world’s biggest sporting events
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British biker Sam Sunderland and his team celebrate their victory after winning the Dakar Rally 2022, at the end of the last stage between Bisha and Jeddah on Jan. 14, 2022. (AFP)
Special How Saudi Arabia is aiming to be home to the world’s biggest sporting events
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Newcastle United fans celebrate the club's recent take over by a Saudi-led consortium during an English Premier League football match on Oct. 17, 2021 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. (AFP)
Special How Saudi Arabia is aiming to be home to the world’s biggest sporting events
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Real Madrid players celebrate beating Atletico Madrid for the Spanish Super Cup title on Jan. 12, 2020, at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah. (AFP)
Special How Saudi Arabia is aiming to be home to the world’s biggest sporting events
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US biker Mason Klein competes during Stage 7 of the Dakar Rally 2022 between Riyadh city and Dawadmi town on Jan. 9, 2022. (AFP file)
Special The peloton passes by ancient Nabataean carved tombs during the Saudi Tour northwestern city of AlUla on Feb. 1, 2022. (AFP)
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The peloton passes by ancient Nabataean carved tombs during the Saudi Tour northwestern city of AlUla on Feb. 1, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 21 August 2022

How Saudi Arabia is aiming to be home to the world’s biggest sporting events

How Saudi Arabia is aiming to be home to the world’s biggest sporting events
  • Usyk and Joshua’s heavyweight bout in Jeddah is only the latest in a long and exciting list
  • Kingdom has set its sights on the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, Asian Games and Asian Winter Games 

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s coastal city of Jeddah was buzzing with excitement yet again on Saturday ahead of one of the biggest boxing rematches in sporting history, between Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk and British fighter Anthony Joshua. 

Such scenes of anticipation are increasingly familiar in Saudi Arabia, as more and more international sporting events are hosted by the Kingdom — a product of the country’s wide-ranging social and economic transformation plan, Vision 2030.

Football match between Saudi Arabia and Australia, part of the 2022 Qatar World Cup Asian Qualifiers, in Jeddah on March 29, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Last September, Usyk shocked the boxing world when he outclassed Joshua in the first bout, claiming his fourth heavyweight title. Owing to the war in Ukraine, their planned rematch could not take place in the champion’s home country. 

Instead the bout, titled “Rage on the Red Sea,” came to Jeddah.

Oleksandr Usyk, left, and Anthony Joshua ahead of their rematch in Jeddah on Aug. 20, 2022. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

One of the goals of Vision 2030, launched in 2016, was to establish the Kingdom as a regional hub for world-class professional sporting events that would generate jobs for Saudi citizens and enhance overall quality of life. 

Today, sports are taking center stage in the Kingdom’s diversification drive to move the economy away from hydrocarbons and to embrace a whole host of flourishing cultural, entrepreneurial and high-tech industries.

In just a few short years, Saudi Arabia has moved to the forefront, hosting some of the biggest sporting events in the world, providing an additional boost for tourism, hospitality, leisure, and employment, while also strengthening national identity.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (C) attends the launch of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship in Diriyah, Riyadh, on Nov. 22, 2019 (Saudi Royal Palace photo/ File)

Tourism is one area Saudi Arabia is especially eager to promote with the launch of its Saudi e-visa in 2018. The Kingdom expects to have hosted 100 million tourists by 2030, drawn by a mixture of new luxury resorts and a packed entertainment calendar.

Hosting major sporting events has created new opportunities for partnerships, investments, and sponsorships at every stage in the value chain, while also demonstrating Saudi Arabia’s diversity, inclusivity, and economic potential to a broader international audience.

Toyota's Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi and British co-driver Michael Orr compete during Stage 11 of the Dakar 2022 around Bisha on Jan. 13, 2022. (AFP)

From the silky smooth tarmac of the Formula E track to the epic routes of the Dakar desert race, and the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City to the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, the Kingdom’s sports entertainment infrastructure has improved leaps and bounds.

Saudi Arabia’s successful bid to host the 2034 Asian Games is further proof of the sector’s long-term strategic trajectory — one that is bound up in its overall national development.

In 2018, the Kingdom witnessed a flurry of major sporting events, tournaments, and championships. That year, Britain’s Callum Smith beat compatriot George Groves in Jeddah to win the WBA super-middleweight title and the World Boxing Super Series crown. 

The 2018 Ad Diriyah E-Prix was also one for the books, as the championship was staged in the historic town of Diriyah, the capital of the first Saudi state.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has hosted the Supercoppa Italiana, the expanded Supercopa de Espana, golf’s Saudi International and the $20 million Saudi Cup — the world’s richest horse race. 

Jockey Wigberto Ramos with Emblem Road celebrates after winning the 1800M race Group 1 of the $20 million Saudi Cup in Riyadh on Feb. 26, 2022. (AFP file)

It has also hosted the Saudi International Championship for Parachuting, the “Clash on the Dunes” between Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr., the Diriyah Tennis Cup, and the Battle of the Champions BMX and skateboarding tournament, to name just a few. 

Although Saudi Arabia’s entertainment revolution suffered setbacks in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with events suspended, venues closed, and international travel barred for several months, the entertainment calendar soon returned with a bang.

In 2021, the Kingdom inaugurated its crowning glory — the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix — firmly establishing itself as a leading venue for international sports events.

Drivers compete during the 2022 Saudi Arabia Formula One Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 27, 2022. (AFP)

Built in just eight months, the high-speed circuit on Jeddah’s seafront became the fastest F1 track to have ever been constructed.

The Kingdom has now set its sights on hosting the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 and the Asian Winter Games in Saudi Arabia’s planned megacity of NEOM in 2029.

A view of NEOM’s Trojena, a mountain destination in the northwestern Saudi province of Tabuk, which is will soon offer year-round outdoor skiing and adventure sports. (Supplied)

A recent Ernst & Young report found that the value of the sporting events industry in Saudi Arabia is growing 8 percent annually, rising from $2.1 billion in 2018 to an estimated $3.3 billion by 2024. 

The contribution of sport to national GDP grew from $2.4 billion in 2016 to $6.9 billion in 2019 as the number of international events in Saudi Arabia doubled from nine in 2018 to 19 in 2019. 

Of course, the economic dividends are not the only signals of success. The Kingdom’s young athletes have clocked up significant victories, which the whole nation can rightly feel proud of.

Last year, Saudi Arabia’s Tarek Hamdi won silver in karate at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Then, earlier this year, Fayik Abdi became the first Saudi to participate in the Winter Olympics, held in Beijing.

Alpine skier Fayik Abdi became the first ever Saudi to participate at the Winter Olympics. (Saudi Olympic Committee)

Having performed well in its fifth FIFA World Cup appearance in Russia in 2018, the Saudi national team qualified for the this winter’s finals in March this year.

Another positive knock-on effect of the growth of sports entertainment has been a general uptake in health and fitness activities among the Saudi population. 

A new survey by Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics has revealed that 48.2 percent of people across the country now practice physical and sporting activities for at least 30 minutes a week. 

Women take part in a cross fit class at a gym in Jeddah. (AFP file photo)

This demonstrates a key milestone in creating a healthy, vibrant society in line with Vision 2030’s Quality of Life Objectives. 

Another pillar of the Vision 2030 reform agenda has been to transform the role of women. Saudi Arabia has developed several strategies to include women in sports, including the establishment of a 24-team Women’s Football League in 2020 and the launch of the first Women’s Regional Football League the following year. 

The Saudi women national football team has received a boost with the appointment of veteran German coach Monika Staab as trainer-coach. (Supplied)

Indeed, according to the Saudi Ministry of Sports, female participation in sports has increased by almost 150 percent since 2015. 

“By participating in athletic events, women achieve so much more,” Hala Al-Hamrani, founder of the first female boxing gym in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News. “Tonight’s boxing event is a big deal, but I’m going mainly to watch the first two female undercards in Saudi Arabia.”

On said undercard, a major moment for women’s boxing will see Somali-British prospect Ramla Ali become the first female boxer to feature in an official international event in Saudi Arabia, clashing with Crystal Garcia Nova over an eight-round super-bantamweight contest.

Government support for combat sports has encouraged many women in the Kingdom to train in martial arts. (Supplied/File)

“I think that is a huge step forward because it’s sending a message to the public that the government supports women competing in combat sports, which will in return allow families that were once reluctant to allow their girls to join in classes or different martial arts competitions to reconsider their position,” said Al-Hamrani. 

Such events “help dissipate the idea that women shouldn’t box,” she added. 

“The undercard and the government’s support is a big deal, showing that women’s involvement in the sport in any way is no longer taboo.” 


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Running clubs building community spirit in Gulf for locals and expats

Running clubs building community spirit in Gulf for locals and expats
Updated 07 June 2023

Running clubs building community spirit in Gulf for locals and expats

Running clubs building community spirit in Gulf for locals and expats
  • June 7 marks Global Running Day, but for many athletes in the GCC, it is part of daily life

“You do not stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.”

This is the paraphrasing of George Bernard Shaw’s famous saying on “playing” and getting old, by Christopher McDougall, from his seminal 2009 book “Born to Run,” about the legendary running tribe, the Tarahumara. It is especially poignant on June 7, which is Global Running Day.

Across the GCC, many runners of all abilities and ages will mark the day in their own way, no doubt with the appropriate hashtags and photos.

But for many others, running is quite literally a way of life, and over the last two decades in particular, running groups and clubs have sprung up across communities from the UAE to Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Nicolas le Roux, who is an established member of Dubai Creek Striders and an ASICS FrontRunner, explains why running clubs have been so successful across the UAE.

“Here in (the) UAE, there is a huge expat community, and being far away from family and friends, makes it even harder to adjust and make new connections,” said the South African. “Being part of a running community allows one to be social around a very common theme which is movement. At Dubai Creek Striders we create a save environment without any barriers (no cost to join or participate) and allow beginners to advance runners to train all over Dubai at various sessions on offer.”

The DCS was established in 1995, and since 2002 has held an annual half marathon which today attracts over 2,000 runners.

“Our annual Dubai Creek Striders Half Marathon is the most iconic half marathon and 10 kilometers on the running calendar,” said Le Roux. “This beautiful route meanders over, under and alongside the spectacular Dubai Creek, embracing the sights and sounds of this incredible city.

“It’s a run where the community come together, a race that is organized for runners by runners themselves. It’s a nonprofit event, meaning that all money raised, goes back into making this race an extraordinary experience time in and time out.”

Le Roux calls running clubs an “extension of our communities.”

“It’s where people get to know each other, dealing with disappointments,  celebrating successes and triumphs of what we can overcome. Our running community has no commercial gain, creating a safe, friendly environment to get fit.

“People feel inspired by getting involved and offer their time to volunteer. It is most rewarding being able to do something good that you are passionate about and you see the enjoyment of achievement in others.”

The ASICS FrontRunner Community has been heavily involved in supporting runners in the region, with 60 of its members active participants, leaders, pacers and race organizers across the Gulf.

“It’s a brand that really believes in getting involved in everything that supports our community including sponsoring our race, reducing cost and providing us with (a) world-class technical running shirt for every participant.”

Part of the community is Fuad Naser, the founder of the Dubai-based 5:30 RUN Club.

“Our running club offers a multifaceted and invaluable experience that goes well beyond the act of running,” said the Jordanian-Palestinian. “The motivational environment, social connections, mentorship opportunities, emotional support, and personal development programs all contribute to the growth and transformation of individuals, where they can achieve remarkable results in their physical, mental and emotional well-being.”

Naser has seen firsthand how regular running has impacted people’s lives, bringing positive physical and mental change to these individuals. “Running clubs have brought about profound transformations in the lives of runners, revolutionizing their physical fitness, promoting healthier lifestyles, and enhancing their mental well-being,” he said.

“By fostering a supportive community, facilitating structured training programs, and providing opportunities for personal growth, these clubs have become instrumental in achieving holistic health. The impact reaches far beyond the distance logged, as individuals experience improved physical fitness, adopt healthier habits, and find solace, support, and personal growth within the running community.”

The 5:30 RUN Club welcomes runners — and aspiring runners — of every background, said Naser.

“Our running club is located in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah,” he said. “We believe in fostering an inclusive and supportive environment where individuals of all abilities can come together to enjoy running and improve their fitness.

“Whether you’re a seasoned runner or just starting out, you’ll find a welcoming community that will encourage and support you in achieving your running goals. Our club offers various training programs and sessions designed to cater to different skill levels.”

Eden Uy, who hails from the Philippines, is the co-founder of the running club 3f Striders, a nonprofit which was established in Dubai in 2014 and now has a branch in Abu Dhabi.

“We offer free coaching on swimming, cycling and running to the community and build connections with people, and with that connection we are able to share our faith and inspire them to get going and move,” she said. “Nothing feels better (than) when you see the members growing and reaching their goals in the sports, from couch to marathon or Ironman. Thanks to those who volunteer and dedicate their time to share their knowledge and skills with the members.”

Uy echoes the words of Le Roux and Naser by saying the running clubs contribute more than just an opportunity to exercise.

“3f Striders participate in community service through coordination with the Philippine consulate, and their social events or community service,” the marine administrative officer said. “Members are also open in sharing ideas and skills in the group as well as business opportunities.”

Omar Al-Filakway, another ASICS FrontRunner, is a coach based in Kuwait, and has built up a strong online fanbase — 304,000 Instagram followers — in recent years. It has allowed him to spread the gospel of running to a wide audience.

“As I lived in the era where there was no social media and currently living (in) the social media era, I can say that in the past there was a difficulty in spreading awareness and education towards running,” he said. “However, today social media has made spreading knowledge and awareness very easy, whether it was through live Instagram, posts, reels, stories, etc.”

“Furthermore, these media messages not only spread in Kuwait and this region, but all over the world, which is a huge benefit because I can reach out to people who are not just close to me.”

As in Dubai and across the GCC, running has grown steadily in his homeland, said Al-Filakway.

“In the recent years, running has become a very popular activity in Kuwait and there has been an increase in the number of runners within the community and it has become a big responsibility for us as experts and professionals in the field of running to spread awareness and knowledge about this sport in a safe and correct manner. Seeing the running community grow in Kuwait makes me very happy.”

Al-Filakway sees that, for some local athletes, running offers wider aspirations.

“To become a professional runner is the right for every runner or fitness fan and to become competitive,” he said. “There are lifestyle runners who have genetic dispositions that allow them to become professional provided that they receive the correct training.”

For Al-Filakway, running, as much as it attracts expatriate communities across the Gulf, also serves to break down barriers for the local populations.

“Being in a Gulf, Arabic, Muslim country, we do face some difficulties in the sport of running, especially when it comes to women and the way (they) dress and specifically for running in public areas,” he said.

“However, in more recent years and after the spread of the sport of running and knowledge and education towards it, and after the increase in the number of women who have taken on the sport … and events and races, there has been more confidence for women to practice this sport in public areas without being afraid. As for men, we never faced any difficulties.”

Perhaps it is fitting to end with another quote from McDougall: “The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other … but to be with each other.”

Germany under-17 national team racially abused on way to winning European title

Germany under-17 national team racially abused on way to winning European title
Updated 07 June 2023

Germany under-17 national team racially abused on way to winning European title

Germany under-17 national team racially abused on way to winning European title
  • General manager Joti Chatzialexiou said racist comments on social media made for “unpleasant circumstances” around the team's run to the European title

FRANKFURT, Germany: Players on the Germany under-17 national team faced racist abuse on social media on their way to winning the European Championship, a team official said Wednesday.
General manager Joti Chatzialexiou said racist comments on social media made for “unpleasant circumstances” around the team’s run to the European title, won on penalties against France on Friday.
“Under particular posts on our social media channels there was a strong accumulation of racist comments. Our boys saw those and that really bothered them,” Chatzialexiou said on the German soccer federation’s website.
“Together they decided, however, not to give any space to these distractions during the course of the tournament, and so they came even closer together as a team. As a team which fully identifies with Germany and with the eagle (badge) on the chest, which lives its shared values and stands for diversity, tolerance, community and integration.”

Beatriz Haddad Maia upsets Ons Jabeur to reach French Open semifinals

Beatriz Haddad Maia upsets Ons Jabeur to reach French Open semifinals
Updated 07 June 2023

Beatriz Haddad Maia upsets Ons Jabeur to reach French Open semifinals

Beatriz Haddad Maia upsets Ons Jabeur to reach French Open semifinals
  • After playing nearly four hours to beat Sara Sorribes Tormo in the fourth round, Haddad Maia won only one of her service games in the first set
  • The 27-year-old Brazilian started the deciding set with a double break and a 3-0 lead

PARIS: Beatriz Haddad Maia scored another comeback win at the French Open, upsetting Ons Jabeur 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1 on Wednesday to become the first Brazilian woman since 1968 to reach a Grand Slam semifinal.
The 14th-seeded Haddad Maia, who in 2019 was provisionally suspended for failing a doping test, shook off a slow start against the seventh-seeded Jabeur on Court Philippe Chatrier and will next face either Iga Swiatek or Coco Gauff.
After playing nearly four hours to beat Sara Sorribes Tormo in the fourth round, Haddad Maia won only one of her service games in the first set. But she saved the only two break points she faced in the second set — both in the 11th game to go up 6-5 — and won the tiebreaker.
The 27-year-old Brazilian started the deciding set with a double break and a 3-0 lead. A frustrated Jabeur flipped her racket in the air after sending an easy backhand wide on a break-point opportunity while down 4-1. Haddad Maia won the game and served out the match.
Jabeur was the runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open last year.
Haddad Maia is the first Brazilian woman to reach the semifinals at Roland Garros in the Open era. Maria Bueno reached the last four at the 1966 French Open and made the 1968 US Open semifinals.
Haddad Maia’s fourth-round win over Sorribes Tormo, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-5, was the longest WTA match of the year — clocking in a 3 hours, 51 minutes.
The top-seeded Swiatek and sixth-seeded Gauff were up next on Chatrier — a rematch of last year’s French Open final won by Swiatek in straight sets. The 22-year-old Swiatek has been ranked No. 1 for more than a year.

Al-Ittihad’s dream becomes reality with Benzema signing

French superstar striker Karim Benzema. @SPL_EN
French superstar striker Karim Benzema. @SPL_EN
Updated 07 June 2023

Al-Ittihad’s dream becomes reality with Benzema signing

French superstar striker Karim Benzema. @SPL_EN
  • Jeddah club strengthens with French international days after celebrating first SPL title in 14 years

What an amazing week for Al-Ittihad fans. Days after winning their first Roshn Saudi League title since 2009, French superstar striker Karim Benzema was confirmed to be joining the Jeddah club from Real Madrid.

It is another dream come true for Al-Ittihad followers and a scary prospect for rivals. The team were relentless in their title-winning campaign. Not only did they have the tightest defense with just 13 goals conceded in 30 games, they also had a devastating strike force. 

Abderrazak Hamdallah topped the scoring charts with 21 and Brazilians Romarinho and Igor Coronado also stood out. Coach Nuno Santo already has a wealth of talent at his disposal.

Now there is Benzema, one of the most feared strikers in the world, even at the age of 35. He may not be at the peak of his career, but he still has plenty to offer, especially with his status as the most recent recipient of the Ballon d’Or. 

He received that coveted individual award — given to the best player in the world — in October of last year after his exploits dug Real Madrid out of a hole more than once as they went on to become the champions of Europe with the Frenchman finishing the Champions League top scorer with 15 goals.

It was the fifth time he has won the biggest prize in club football. 

“If you can’t appreciate Benzema’s greatness then you don’t understand football,” said Zinedine Zidane (also linked to a coaching move to Saudi Arabia) and few would disagree.

Benzama’s Champions League medal haul even matches that of Cristiano Ronaldo. The presence of his former Madrid team-mate in Saudi Arabia has made a difference on a personal level. He contacted Ronaldo to ask about life in the country on and off the pitch. The reply must have been positive.

Ronaldo’s move to Riyadh has had a knock-on effect across the globe, with the huge rise in interest in the Saudi Pro League. He signed with Al-Nassr in December, suddenly putting a move to Saudi Arabia on the radar of many big names in world football. He was the first but there were always going to be others following. 

The only question was whether they would be players at the highest echelons of the world game. It can safely be said that Benzema is firmly in that category. With the Ballon d’Or holder the first major signing of the summer, it is perhaps a sign of things to come.

Title rivals have to accept Al-Ittihad’s challenge. If the champions are strengthening to such an extent, so early, then others are going to have to make similar moves. Al-Nassr have Ronaldo but fell short at the end and are currently without a head coach. That is going to change soon and given the captain’s stature, the new man is going to need a serious reputation.

Al-Hilal finished third and are also on the hunt for a coach to replace Ramon Diaz. After being banned from the last two transfer windows, there is going to be a lot of activity. Lionel Messi has been heavily linked but there are others such as Sergio Busquets. 

Then Al-Shabab are going to invest to try and build on fourth and that is even before Al-Ahli, the other Jeddah powerhouse, who bounced back straight away from their shock relegation, flex their muscles.

Now all know what they are dealing with. Karim Benzema has just made the best team in Saudi Arabia better and has set the scene for a sizzling summer.

How Saudi’s elite clubs can avoid mistakes of Chinese Super League

How Saudi’s elite clubs can avoid mistakes of Chinese Super League
Updated 07 June 2023

How Saudi’s elite clubs can avoid mistakes of Chinese Super League

How Saudi’s elite clubs can avoid mistakes of Chinese Super League
  • Fleeting success of Guangzhou Evergrande, Tianjin Quanjian, Jiangsu Suning and others because spending was unsustainable
  • Source of investment in Kingdom’s league more secure than China’s individual-based backing

As rumors swirl linking a host of footballing superstars with a move to the Saudi professional league, including arguably the greatest player of all time, Lionel Messi, fans of Asian football would be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu.

While the names are different, the sudden splurge from a nation looking to develop both its football, and standing within it, is eerily similar to what we saw from China less than a decade ago as it tried to upend the sport’s established order.

And for a period it did; the likes of Oscar, Jackson Martinez, Hulk, Paulinho, Renato Augusto, not to mention coaches including Marcello Lippi, Fabio Capelli and Manuel Pellegrini, were all tempted east as the Chinese Super League threatened to take over Asian football and become a big player on the global stage.

Guangzhou Evergrande led the charge, twice winning the AFC Champions League, while upstarts such as Shanghai SIPG, now Shanghai Port, Hebei CFFC, Tianjin Quanjian and Jiangsu Suning took the league by storm.

With China’s President Xi Jinping making it a national priority for the country to become a force in world football, countless businesses, mostly real estate developers, took the opportunity to invest in football, not just at home but around the world, in an attempt to curry favor with the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

By this time in their revolution, China was expected to be a powerhouse within Asia, but their reality serves as a warning for Saudi Arabian football as it embarks on its own journey for international prominence.

Less than a decade after China really started its extravagance, local football is arguably in a worse position than before it all started. The CSL has mostly been shed of all its star names, while the national team will likely struggle to qualify for the World Cup despite Asia’s allocation doubling from four to eight.

That is to say nothing of the country’s top football officials being detained on suspicion of fraud and bribery.

This is not how it was meant to be.

The once-mighty Guangzhou Evergrande, more recently renamed Guangzhou FC, has been relegated to China League One and are winless after eight games, placing them at risk of a second consecutive relegation. This is a long way from when they dominated the ACL with titles in 2013 and 2015.

Meanwhile, once-burgeoning outfits like Jiangsu, Hebei and Tianjin have all gone bust and no longer exist – standing as monuments of failure and a permanent reminder of just how quickly things can change.

“You need a vision, and then you need a strategy, and then you need to be able to put that strategy into action,” Prof. Simon Chadwick, an expert in sport and geopolitics, told Arab News.

“You need to have checks and balances within the system, that if the strategy is not working in the most appropriate way, then those checks and balances can be enacted, to keep you on the right path towards your vision.

“These are things that I sense a little more in Saudi Arabia that didn’t necessarily exist in China.”

With further details emerging this week of Saudi Arabia’s roadmap toward success, including the privatization of the country’s four biggest clubs – Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli – and a forecasted quadrupling of annual revenues, the Saudi experiment is already looking vastly different to that of China’s.

Whereas the largesse in China had the support of the ruling CCP party, it was more often than not financed by private individuals, albeit ones with links to the ruling communist party, using their own wealth accumulated through years of unsustainable growth in the real estate sector. By the time the heat came out of the real estate market, and the CCP tinkered to try and save clubs from themselves, it was too late.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, the investment is coming directly from the state via its sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, the same source of funding for LIV Golf and Newcastle United. That alone makes this feel more secure and less at risk of an embarrassing collapse as was witnessed in China.

Chadwick also explained that the Kingdom needs to find its own uniqueness and not simply try to copy what is successful in Europe.

“One of the interesting things about both Saudi Arabia and China, I think, is a lot of people from outside the country advise and give guidance,” he said.

“(But) they don’t necessarily give the best advice or the best guidance, because what might work in Europe, for example, doesn’t necessarily work in Asia.

“So I think it’s really important, and I don’t think China did this, that Saudi Arabia needs to develop its own identity and its own system of governance, its own culture and its own way of working and not be overly preoccupied by replicating the experiences of what has happened in Europe.”