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How the World Cup is the key to rebuilding Saudi Arabia

The organization of the FIFA World Cup in Saudi Arabia is seen as an unprecedented victory for the oil-rich kingdom, which aims to transform its economy and improve its global image through this event. Analysts believe that the World Cup will play a significant role in reshaping Saudi Arabia’s economy and rebranding the nation.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia faced international backlash following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, and Western leaders distanced themselves from the Saudi regime. Human rights issues continue to be a concern. However, the Saudi government has used its vast oil wealth to invest in sports and entertainment to change its international image and draw attention away from these controversies.

The announcement of Saudi Arabia hosting the 2034 World Cup came just 27 days after the tournament started, making it the sole bidder for the event. This decision occurred at a time when top football stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar were joining Saudi clubs, attracting global attention to Saudi football. Additionally, Saudi Arabia, despite not having a significant presence in professional golf, hosted the lucrative Saudi International golf tournament, part of the PGA and European Tours.

These successes are not just part of the “Vision 2030” project but also represent a deeper shift in Saudi Arabia’s focus on attracting tourists, investment, and diversifying its economy. In 2019, Saudi Arabia started issuing tourist visas to non-Muslim visitors, making it the first Muslim country to do so.

The hosting of the World Cup in 2034 is expected to mark a turning point in Saudi Arabia’s transformation, bringing its culture, heritage, and sports to the global stage. The country is investing heavily in major infrastructure projects, including the creation of “NEOM,” a $500 billion futuristic city that aims to diversify the economy and reduce its reliance on oil. Other projects like the Red Sea tourism destination “The Line,” the entertainment city Qiddiya, and a new international airport in Riyadh are also in progress.

According to experts, hosting the World Cup in 2034 will serve as a signpost for Saudi Arabia’s ambitious plans to become a stable and respected member of the international community. By focusing on sports and entertainment, Saudi Arabia is striving to create a compelling narrative and brand itself as a progressive and dynamic nation. It’s expected that Saudi Arabia’s population will grow by 50% by 2030, and the country hopes to attract 150 million tourists annually, further indicating the need for stable and engaging mega-events.

Saudi Arabia faces challenges in terms of infrastructure, including transportation and insufficient venues, as well as issues related to human rights, gender equality, and the scrutiny of international standards. The country will have to address these concerns while hosting the World Cup.

Christian Ulrichsen, an expert in Middle Eastern affairs, points out that hosting mega-events requires meticulous planning and investment. Saudi Arabia has some way to go to be adequately prepared for the tournament. The timing of the World Cup’s kickoff is ticking, and the country must be ready by the end of 2033 at the latest.

In conclusion, Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the 2034 World Cup is seen as a critical step in the nation’s transformation and its ambition to project a different image on the global stage. While challenges remain, Saudi Arabia aims to leverage this mega-event to change its economic and cultural landscape.

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