Saudis’ £400bn city for sport

Mega project aimed at lur­ing more global events to king­dom

Scottish Daily Mail - - Football - By MATT HUGHES

SAUDI ARA­BIA are plan­ning to cre­ate a new cross-border city state gov­erned by western — rather than Is­lamic — law as part of its long-term strat­egy to be­come a global cen­tre for world-class sport­ing events.

Sports­mail has learned that a key el­e­ment of the king­dom’s Vi­sion 2030 is the in­tro­duc­tion of western laws in the new city of

Neom, a £400bil­lion project in the north west near the Red Sea.

It should help them win the right to stage more global events such as Satur­day’s $100m world heavy­weight ti­tle fight be­tween An­thony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jnr in Riyadh.

The Saudi govern­ment are un­der­stood to have re­cruited nu­mer­ous public af­fairs ex­perts from all over the world, in­clud­ing sev­eral from Bri­tain, to ad­vise on a project first launched by the Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed Bin Sal­man two years ago.

The new city would op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently from the rest of the coun­try, with dif­fer­ent laws and, hav­ing been a one-game mid-sea­son af­fair be­tween the cham­pi­ons and Span­ish Cup hold­ers, it has been ex­panded to four teams and will fea­ture Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Va­len­cia.

Amnesty claim the Joshua-Ruiz fight takes place against a back­drop of in­creased op­pres­sion of lo­cal peo­ple in a coun­try where there have been 146 ex­e­cu­tions this year.

How­ever, the Saudi govern­ment have no plans to scale back their am­bi­tious pro­gramme of bid­ding for stag­ing rights, part of a wider plan to grow the tourism in­dus­try to ten per cent of the na­tional econ­omy by 2030. It will help to re­duce the coun­try’s de­pen­dency on oil.

A num­ber of ma­jor events will take place for the first time in the coun­try next year, in­clud­ing a five-stage cy­cling Saudi Tour put on by Tour de France or­gan­is­ers ASO and the in­au­gu­ral Saudi Cup horse race with a £15m prize fund.

Talks are on­go­ing be­tween the govern­ment and Lib­erty Me­dia, own­ers of For­mula One, about tak­ing a world championsh­ip race there.

F1 have de­manded as­sur­ances over labour con­di­tions, equal­ity for all women en­ter­ing the coun­try and press free­doms, which would be eas­ier for Saudi to grant in a new city such as Neom, op­er­at­ing un­der a sep­a­rate ju­ris­dic­tion.

The first stage in the con­struc­tion of Neom is due to be com­pleted by 2025, though that may be de­layed af­ter a planned sale of shares in state-owned oil com­pany Saudi Aramco to raise funds was put back.

It is also hoped that lib­er­al­is­ing part of the coun­try will make it more ap­peal­ing to trav­el­ling fans. De­spite sell­ing tick­ets in 60 dif­fer­ent coun­tries, the Joshua-Ruiz fight at the pur­pose-built Diriyah Arena has not sold out.

Joshua’s at­tempt to re­gain his WBA, IBF and WBO ti­tles will be tele­vised on Sky Sports pay-per-view on Satur­day night.

Ready for war: An­thony Joshua shadow-box­ing at yes­ter­day’s public work­out

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