JEDDAH: Of all Saudi Arabia’s cities, few enjoy the enormous profile and popularity like that of Jeddah.
A major urban center and the Kingdom’s commercial capital, ‘The Bride of the Red Sea’ has long been a renowned regional attraction and quickly becoming an iconic international destination, melding history with modernity, welcoming millions of visitors annually.
Jeddah’s story is, however, far from its conclusion, for a new, exciting chapter has only just begun.
As Saudi Arabia’s remarkable transformation through sport has accelerated and the nation’s openness and collaboration with the world has advanced, Jeddah has assumed a starring role in the Kingdom’s evolution, emerging as one of the Middle East’s new homes of sport in the process.
A sports events epicenter
For a better understanding of Jeddah’s rise to stardom on the regional sporting stage, one can look back to 2016 when ‘Vision 2030’ was launched.
The Kingdom’s strategic plan for nationwide transformation, Vision 2030 is the embodiment of the Kingdom’s plan not only for achieving economic diversification, but also implementing far-reaching social and lifestyle changes by promoting physical wellbeing through the staging of sporting events.
Sports have always been embraced by the Saudi and wider Middle Eastern communities – and Jeddah has tapped into the limitless potential of these markets in recent years, flourishing as a modern sports events and entertainment hub.
Nationally, Saudi Arabia’s sports event industry is growing by 8% per year and will reach $3.3 billion by 2024 – a $1.2 billion increase from $2.1 billion in 2018.
And crucially, Jeddah has made glowing contributions as an epicenter of activity, captivating audiences, inspiring new talent, ushering in a new era for Middle Eastern sport by hosting some world’s biggest, most renowned events from across the sporting spectrum.
Milestone moments for Jeddah
While many milestones have co-written Jeddah’s ‘new home of sport in Middle East’ journey thus far, the Italian Super Cup is certainly a shining example.
Having signed a deal with the Italian football league to host three of the next five editions of the competition, Jeddah hosted the 31 st edition in 2018 with over 61,000 in attendance at King Abdullah Sports City as Juventus faced AC Milan.
Interest in football has always been high across Saudi Arabia, and the success of this event paved the way for Jeddah’s hosting of the Spanish Super Cup in January 2020.
More than 158,000 spectators attended three matches at King Abdullah Sports City as Real Madrid won the competition.
Yet sport does, of course, come in many forms, and football is one of many to recently descend on the Red Sea coastal city.
Another with extensive global gravitas is F1, which made its way to Jeddah with the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in 2021.
A mainstay of the F1 calendar moving forward, the second edition was held in March 2022
as part of a $650 million 10-year agreement between the Kingdom and F1.
Moreover, the recent sports events schedule has welcomed professional handball with the 2021 International Handball Federation (IHF) Men’s Super Globe, more motorsport with the 2022 Dakar Rally, and basketball with back-to-back editions of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) 3x3 World Tour Final.
Events like these have generated widespread attention and acclaim; demonstrating the robust relationships Jeddah enjoys with the world’s sporting communities, showcasing its blossoming reputation as a regional home for sports events, laying the foundations for long-term success.
As attentions turn to the future, Jeddah and sports are very much entwined, sure to scale even greater heights given upcoming events, infrastructure development, and invaluable momentum from the latest high profile boxing event to grace Saudi shores.
Forging a lasting legacy
The eyes of the world most recently turned to Jeddah this past Saturday, Aug. 20, for the ‘Rage on the Red Sea’, the biggest international boxing event of 2022, as unified world heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk defended his titles against former two-time titleholder Anthony Joshua in front of a sold-out crowd.
The match-up lived up its billing as perhaps the most anticipated rematch in boxing history at King Abdullah Sports City, further consolidating Jeddah’s regional sporting host leadership, leaving behind a legacy for future events to emulate.
One upcoming event already drawing similar pre-Rage on the Red Sea excitement levels is the first LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah, with three days of non-stop action in store as some of world golf’s biggest names compete at the Royal Green Golf & Country Club.
The development of golf at the local level echoes that of sporting infrastructure, with sports events of tomorrow sure to be held at a new stadium set to be built by Jeddah Central Development Company as part of a $20 billion project.
With all these scenarios is mind, Jeddah’s status as a new home of sport in the Middle East is assured rather than speculative; a title the city can proudly hold for generations to come.
- Abdulaziz Baeshen is the Assistant Minister of Sports in Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sport