Anachronistic Saudi Winter Games

PPrimarily known for its deserts and extreme heat, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia was chosen on October 4 to host the 2029 Pan-Asian Winter Games. That the sum of these two data produces cognitive dissonance will not surprise anyone. Even less in the context of the controversies that already surround the next World Cup, scheduled for this fall on the soil of another country on the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar, in heated outdoor stadiums.

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China had paved the way in February, during the Winter Olympics in Beijing, with completely artificial snow for the first time. The kingdom pushes the boundaries of absurdity even further, with skiing and speed skating events planned. It is true that it can happen that it snows in Saudi Arabia, but the emotion aroused by the rare snowflakes testifies precisely to its extreme rarity.

These Asian Winter Games will take place in the province of Tabouk, bordering Jordan and washed by the Red Sea. It faces the Strait of Tiran, which separates it from the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh. The next COP27 on climate change will be held in the last month of November. Delegates rushing there will be able to quietly discuss this Saudi parable. It perfectly illustrates the systematic subordination of environmental issues to the imperatives of power and prestige.

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A year ago, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia launched a “Green Initiative” to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. It involved planting billions of trees, massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from 2030, and the virtual doubling of the kingdom’s protected areas, including in Tabuk province. On September 24, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the Saudi delegate reiterated his country’s commitment to the fight against global warming.

the money lever

These praiseworthy objectives remain clearly compatible, according to Saudi logic, with the environmental affront that the preparation and celebration of the Asian Winter Games will entail. His organization faithfully responds to an objective that has nothing to do with sport and less with ecology. It is about promoting a project especially close to the heart of the strong man of Riyadh, the crown prince Mohammed ben Salman, recently promoted to prime minister: the creation ex nihilo in this province of Tabouk of a futuristic city, Neom.

Mohammed Ben Salman, whose reputation remains tarnished by the murder and dismemberment of dissident Jamal Khashoggi, is actually trying to copy, a few decades too late, the most flashy city in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai. There is no better way to express the anachronism of a project whose language elements refer to the inimitable jargon of international strategy consultants.

That the arrogance of a potentate leads him to embrace the prospect of the Winter Games in the middle of the desert, unfortunately, is conceivable. On the other hand, it is unfortunate that the lever of money leads the organizing committees of this type of event to free themselves from any other consideration and to remain deaf and blind to the awareness in societies of the ever-increasing cost of climatic disturbances, and that drives them. These drifts are dead ends. It must be recognized as soon as possible.

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