Motor sports lead race in keeping Saudi economy on track

Motor sports lead race in keeping Saudi economy on track

Motor sports lead race in keeping Saudi economy on track
Afnan Almarglani is the first Saudi woman to be certified as an autocross instructor. (AFP)
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In March, motor sports enthusiasts and racing teams from across the world gathered at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the enthralling 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. 

The event garnered a peak viewership of 1.82 million people, surpassing all previous records. It was the second time Saudi Arabia hosted a supremely successful motor sports racing event in a row.

By its very nature, motor sports is an adrenaline-fueled sport for the young, and around 51 percent of the Kingdom’s population is under the age of 25 years. Those under the age of 29 years make up two-thirds of the population. So, naturally, the Kingdom is filled with potential young motor sports talents and enthusiasts.

Another prerequisite for motor sports is a place where exciting races can be held. In this context, the Kingdom offers a unique landscape and diversified terrain, making it a coveted arena for motor sports. 

The country offers world-class racetracks, and the government has been proactive in facilitating motor sports and looking after infrastructural and logistical needs.

The Kingdom’s investment in sport, infrastructure, events and tourism is reaping tangible rewards, propelling the country to become a preferred destination for motor sports events and attracting enthusiasts worldwide. The frequency of such events in the Kingdom will only increase in the coming years, cementing the country’s position as a motor sports hub.

Driving socioeconomic growth

Motor sports events have a multi-faceted relevance, both economic and social.

Hosting motor sports events and drivers from around the world boosts sports and adventure tourism, generating several economic opportunities in the Kingdom. 

The economic benefits of motor sports include boosting event, sport, hospitality, travel, food and beverages and leisure industries, even as the country welcomes drivers, technicians, teams and enthusiasts.

Motor sports events create opportunities and meaningful experiences for the youth of both genders. In addition, a thriving motor sports ecosystem can increase Saudi youth’s work opportunities and attract young talents, both men and women, from other nations to travel to the Kingdom to hone their skills.

To inspire the next generation of Saudi drivers, the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, headed by Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, launched the Saudi Young Stars e-Karting competition. 

This sport helps young enthusiasts experience what racing is all about. In another significant step, the SAMF partnered with King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, empowering the youth with employment skills.

Motor sports also provide an opportunity for building cultural ties globally. For instance, Saudi champion Yazeed Al Rajhi is a source of national pride with his achievements in the world of rallying. 

Al Rajhi has proven himself in the history of the World Cup for cross-country Rallies since his debut in 2014 and is a household name on the rallying scene as the first Saudi to win first place at the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas in 2021.

Many Saudi women are taking a leap of faith with motor sports by consciously making it an exciting and prolific professional career choice. 

Munir Khoja

Several motor sports events have taken place in the Kingdom since 2018. These included Formula E’s 10-year agreement to stage a race in the country; three editions of the Dakar Rally, hosting the world’s first Extreme E race; the Middle East’s first-ever women-only navigational rally; and Grand Prix 2021 and 2022. 

These events reached 2.2 billion households across 190 territories and secured 350 million digital impressions. Moreover, the first two editions of the Dakar Rally created 11,841 jobs, including 3,606 Saudi nationals.

Empowering women in the Kingdom

Many Saudi women are taking a leap of faith with motor sports by consciously making it an exciting and prolific professional career choice. 

Championing the cause of diversity for women and setting precedence, Dania Akeel won the FIA Cross-Country Baja World Cup in the T3 class as the first Arab woman to win the title.

Aseel Al-Hamad rose to fame after performing a celebratory lap in a Lotus Renault E20 before the 2018 French Grand Prix opening, becoming the first woman board member of the SAMF. She is also a member of the International Automobile Federation. 

Another Saudi woman driver, Mashael Al Obaidan, who participated in the iconic Dakar Rally, has become a role model. Through social media, she empowers other women to take their first steps in motor sports.

Reema Al-Juffali is another prominent name in motor sports; she is the first Saudi woman racing driver to officially compete in the 2021 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship. Al-Juffali is one of the three GCC women to hold a race license. She recently completed her debut International GT Open with a passion for racing.

Another shining example of women’s empowerment through motor sports is the commencement of the first-ever women-only navigational rally, Rally Jameel, held this year. 

Initiated by Abdul Latif Jameel Motors, welcoming 34 two-women teams, Jameel has set a new benchmark, promoting the participation of women in motor sports. The rally was sanctioned by the SAMF, supported by the FIA Women in Motorsport Committee and organized by Bakhashab Motorsports.

The success of women is equally prominent off the track. For example, Dr. Ahad Al Saud, a medical doctor in the Kingdom, is also the chief medical officer of the Saudi Arabian F1 Grand Prix, the FIA medical delegate for Saudi Arabia, and the head of the Saudi Arabian Marshall’s Club.

Cruising ahead at full speed

The government is dedicated to taking motor sports to new heights, working closely with stakeholders from the public and private entities. In 2021 the SAMF launched the Saudi Motorsport Co., a dedicated commercial entity focused on bringing motor sports events under a single umbrella in the Kingdom. 

In line with Vision 2030, the Kingdom promotes sports tourism and advocates investment in sports, particularly motor sports. The development of motor sports has helped create an environment for motor sports to thrive as it supports the Kingdom’s efforts toward the Quality of Life program. This move has enhanced citizens’ participation in cultural, recreational, sports and tourism activities, enabling the country to diversify its economy.

Motor sports events have also helped promote avenues to drive safely and create awareness among youth. This initiative supports the creation of economic and development prospects in the region, where Saudi Arabia can look into inspiring future generations to play a crucial role in becoming the country of champions.

Munir Khoja is managing director, marketing communication, at Abdul Latif Jameel Motors. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view