Saudi Arabia was named Tuesday to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games in Neom, a futuristic megacity under construction in the desert kingdom's northwest, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) announced.
"The deserts and mountains of Saudi Arabia will soon be a playground for winter sports," said in a statement this organization, stating that the decision had been taken "unanimously" at its general assembly in Phnom Penh.
Located on the shores of the Red Sea, the Neom project, worth hundreds of billions of dollars and driven by powerful Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salmane, has been in the news a lot since it was first announced in 2017.
Architects and economists have questioned its feasibility.
Specifically, the Asian Winter Games should be held in Trojena, a mountainous area of Neom "where temperatures drop below zero degrees in winter and year-round temperatures are generally 10 degrees lower" than the seaside, the developers say on their website, without mentioning the issue of rainfall.
Trojena, which is expected to be completed in 2026, will include year-round ski slopes, an artificial freshwater lake, chalets, mansions and luxury hotels, according to the same source.
Mohammed bin Salmane serves as chairman of Neom's board of directors. De facto ruler of the kingdom, he promised with this project to "redefine mountain tourism in the world", while respecting the principles of eco-tourism.
The director of Neom, Nadhmi al-Nasr, said that Trojena would be equipped with "adequate infrastructure to create a winter atmosphere in the heart of the desert, and to make these Winter Games an unprecedented global event.
The Asian Winter Games include skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey and figure skating competitions, 47 events in total, including 28 on snow and 19 on ice, according to the OCA.
"I never thought I would ski (one day) in my country," said Tuesday the Saudi alpine skier Fayik Abdile, quoted in the organization's statement.
The sports events have multiplied in recent years in Saudi Arabia, accused by NGOs of wanting to divert attention from human rights violations in the kingdom.
In an interview with AFP, Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal recently expressed his country's desire to one day host the Olympic Games.
An Egyptian official said last month that Egypt, Greece and Saudi Arabia had begun discussions on a possible joint bid for the 2030 soccer World Cup.
"This world is crazy, we're going beyond debility": the first political reactions to the award of the Asian Winter Games to Saudi Arabia
After the worldwide protest of the Football World Cup in Qatar, this announcement looks like a farce. But it is official. "Let's not waste time: boycott, prohibition for European companies to participate in the project and diplomatic opposition", reacted directly the French MEP Manon Aubry (La France Insoumise).
Within the Belgian political world, there has not yet been a call for such categorical action. But some have shared their dismay on social networks after the announcement of the award.
"It seems that no lessons were learned from the choice of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. Errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum," tweeted Minister of State André Flahaut. Understand "error is human, perseverare diabolicum".
For his part, the president of the Engagés (ex-cdH) Maxime Prévot wonders where we live. "This world is crazy," writes the president. "The 2029 Asian Winter Games (skiing, skating ...) have been awarded to Saudi Arabia in the middle of the desert. It will be in a futuristic city that does not yet exist. Obviously many have not yet understood the climate challenges! It is beyond debility", the politician tackles.
The group leader of the same party in the Brussels parliament says nothing else. "The world is turning decidedly crazy. Unimaginable and totally irresponsible", notes Céline Fremault.
It is thus Saudi Arabia which was designated to welcome the Asian Winter Games of 2029. High place of the democracy, and international reference of the sliding sports and the snowy mounts, it is well known... In case you had not perceived the despair of the irony, say you that the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) is more cynical than us: it is that this absurd decision was taken "unanimously" of the august assembly!
Let's recap. In 2014, the Winter Olympics were held in the resort of Sochi, under artificial snow. Such a silly idea that it was considered useful to repeat the experience in Pyeongchang as well as in this beginning of 2022, in Beijing, city without snow and without mountain. We do not even ask here the human rights issues and the question of the massacre of the Uyghurs.
Let's turn to soccer. In 2010, FIFA gave in to Russian rubles and Qatari petrodollars to make its combo of shame, awarding the 2018 World Cup to Russia (now at war with Ukraine and hostile to the West) and the 2022 edition to Qatar, whose calls for a boycott for ecological heresy (air-conditioned stadiums, social (6,500 deaths to build the stadiums), historical (Qatar does not have any, even less in soccer) and democratic (the question of women's rights, alcohol, homosexuality) are following each other day after day.
And here comes Trojena-Neom 2029, a megalopolis under construction in the northwest of Saudi Arabia. To host skiing in the middle of the desert, in a country where homosexuality is still punishable by death. So they have not understood anything.