Qatar World Cup 2022 Might Be Over, But Arabian Peninsula’s Sports Dream is Just Beginning
"I heard something beautiful, not just music, but also this call to celebration. This is all so new. All I have known before was a land that seemed to be in turmoil.” Morgan Freeman, one of the greatest Hollywood actors, kick-started the opening ceremony of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 by pointing directly at the changes happening in the Arabian Peninsula. Along with Ghanim Al Muftah, an inspirational entrepreneur and philanthropist born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, a rare disorder that impairs the development of the lower spine, the legendary actor stole the show.
From the duo emphasizing a message of hope, inclusivity, peace, and unity for humanity to Argentina dramatically winning the world cup, Messi finally fulfilling his godly career with the final piece of the puzzle, and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, dressing Messi in a Bisht as a symbol of utmost respect for the GOAT, Qatar organized one of the best world cups in history. It made the entire GCC region proud. La’eeb, the official Mascot of the FIFA world cup 2022, will have an eternal place in the history of football, representing the beauty of cultural diversity.
This world cup has always been much more than a football tournament for the Arabian Peninsula. Primarily because of the way the GCC countries perceive their future. The once oil-based economies in the region are turning a corner; the diversification of the economy is now a massive aspect of the new Arabian dream. The GCC countries looking forward to becoming the sports hosts of the world & attracting travelers from around the globe is a deliberate attempt toward realizing this new vision.
Qatar world cup 2022 is just the tip of the iceberg. The cities like Dubai have already proven their prowess and capabilities even to conduct multiple tournaments simultaneously. During the six months of the Expo 2020 (October 2021-March 2022), Dubai hosted more than 30 international sports events, including the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup qualifiers, cricket’s Twenty20 World Cup, and the European Tour’s ‘Race to Dubai’ finale, the DP World Tour Championship.
According to the 2020 Ministry of Sports report, the sports sector created more than 14000 direct jobs that year. Moreover, jobs at sports clubs have increased in three years by 129 percent due to new sports offerings. While administrative jobs rose by 156 percent, career opportunities in sports rose by more than 114 percent.
Sports & More Sports
In October, UAE successfully conducted the NBA games for the first time. NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 featured two exciting preseason games—Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks facing off twice—for the first time in the country's history. It not only gave Emiratis a chance to see some of the best basketball players in the world, including Giannis Antetokounmpo and Trae Young but an opportunity to manifest the prowess to conduct globally recognized high-octane tournaments. Just like how Qatar did with the football world cup. The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT – Abu Dhabi) has signed a multi-year strategic partnership with the NBA.
Furthermore, in an unprecedented and unexpected move, the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the Indian football body, is ready to hold the knock-out stages of the Santosh Trophy National Championships in Saudi Arabia. In October, AIFF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with their Saudi Arabian counterparts to “study the possibility of staging the knock-out matches of the Santosh Trophy in the West Asian country in February 2023.
“The MoU that we signed with the Saudi Football Federation was for hosting the Santosh Trophy in Jeddah and Riyadh. Jeddah has more Indian population there, but Riyadh is the capital. And so the government there can club it together with art and culture. So these are the areas we will discuss, and maybe by January, we'll take a final call," said Kalyan Chaubey, the former Indian goalkeeper and president of AIFF.
It is Not Just About the Image
Is sports all about building the image of the Arabian Peninsula? Not at all. For instance, take the case of Saudi Arabia. In 2016, Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (now Prime Minister) launched one of the most strategic economic plans in the world, the Saudi Vision 2030. One of the priorities of the vision that aimed at economic diversification away from hydrocarbons and toward different industries was Sports. Over the past half a decade, Saudi Arabia’s sports industry has undergone major reforms led by three key goals: more community engagement in sports by 2030, improving Saudi elite athletes’ performances abroad and boosting the sports economy.
Interestingly, these three aspects have been quite generous to the country’s plans so far. One of Saudi Arabia’s biggest hurdles in promoting sports was the significant shortage in women's participation. MBS’s bold and often dramatic reforms have helped address this problem. In 2018, he announced the permission for families—not just male attendees—to enter stadiums across the country. The result? Attendance for athletic events rose by a whopping 152 percent.
Success in Three Aspects
UAE’s Ministry of Education now also conducts sports classes in girls’ schools, which public schools lacked in the past. In the aftermath of these significant reforms in both sports and the community, women’s participation in sports increased by 150 percent from 2015 to 2019. Today, the Kingdom is home to more than 6000 thousand female athletes and 27 women’s sports teams. Additionally, to revamp the sports infrastructure, Saudi’s sports Ministry lined up an array of initiatives, including a platform called Nafes, which was created in 2021 to help streamline the licensing processes for private sector clubs. This initiative helped to skyrocket the number of sports clubs in the country. Today, 30 percent of private clubs and academies are specifically for women.
These extraordinary initiatives have resulted in the Saudi sports fraternity performing better in the global arena; the Saudi men’s football team beating mighty Argentina in their opening match of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 was the epitome of the country’s improved sports scenario.
Collectively, the changing sports scene in the country is creating a more significant impact on the socio-economic landscape of Saudi Arabia. According to the 2020 Ministry of Sports report, the sports sector created more than 14000 direct jobs that year. Moreover, jobs at sports clubs have increased in three years by 129 percent due to new sports offerings. While administrative jobs rose by 156 percent, career opportunities in sports rose by more than 114 percent.
The Domino Effect
The domino effect created by sports has quickly spread to have an economic impact on tourism. Global events contribute to an increased number of foreign visitors worldwide. According to the ministry, sporting events in 2020 generated 36.9 million Saudi riyals ($9.8 million) in ticketing revenue and visitor spending. Furthermore, it is no secret that the sports sector generally contributes to hotel spending and the hospitality industry. Riyadh’s hotel occupancy rates increased by 58 percent in the first eight months of 2022, and Jeddah’s occupancy rate was 52 percent—a 13 percent increase from last year in part due to the pandemic. An EY report shows that Saudi’s sports event revenue is growing by an annualized 8 percent per year. It also predicts that the Saudi sports events industry will be worth US$3.3 billion by 2024.