Saudi Arabia go whole hog on sports economy


Saudi Arabia will open up for sports investors Image: Ministry of Sports

Saudi Arabia is going the whole hog to boost sports economy and in this connection it is inviting global investors to take full ownership of clubs, academies and centers across 27 of its most popular sports.

The ‘Arab News’ stated that the Ministry of Sport launched on June 21st NAFES, a new online licensing platform designed to encourage foreign investment and collaboration in the Kingdom, one of the world’s rapidly growing sports markets.

The sports being offered for ownership via NAFES include football, basketball, swimming, equestrian, tennis, electronic sports, gymnastics, cycling, and combat sports.

Stated Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal who views sports as the mode which opens up vistas of economic opportunities, “We are inviting the world to partner with us on our journey of sporting transformation. Our country’s incredible passion for sport is well known and, as more get active and take up sport, the economic opportunity is exciting.”

He added, “Sport is an integral component of our Kingdom’s transformative Vision 2030, and we would not have achieved these massive strides if it were not for the unconditional support by our Kingdom’s leadership led by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and the Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”

The ‘Arab News’ further stated that NAFES will attract private investment to help increase the number of clubs, academies and centers across sport and to boost competition among athletes.

The Saudi sports economy has grown 174 percent in the last three years and its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased by 22 percent.

Prince Abdulaziz added, “NAFES is our invitation to overseas partners to drive our sporting investment to the next level and to collaborate across our sports clubs, academies and centers. It is a turning point for the Kingdom’s sports sector. Our message to investors and the private sector both in Saudi Arabia and across the globe is direct and clear, establish your clubs, compete and draw the future path of Saudi sports investment.”

The launch of NAFES falls under Saudi Arabia’s ‘Quality of Life’ sports program, which is part of the country’s Vision 2030 reform plans.

Saudi Vision 2030 is a strategic framework to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation, and tourism.

Saudi Arabia has already launched partnerships with some of the world’s biggest sports events and governing bodies.

The investments have resulted in a 37 percent growth in Saudis participating in weekly sport activities between 2015 and 2019, alongside a 149 percent increase in women and girls exercising during the same time period. During the coronavirus pandemic, over four million enjoyed home fitness classes as part of the ‘Baytak Nadeek’ initiative by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA).

The Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) is the main body responsible for developing community sports and is mandated with achieving a target of raising physical activity levels in Saudi Arabia to 40 percent by 2030.

Saudi Arabia has hosted around 50 international fixtures in the last three years. These have included events in international football, the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) European Tour golf, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), tennis, and boxing. The country’s motorsport calendar features the Dakar Rally (annual rally raid organized by the Amaury Sport Organisation which is part of the French media group Éditions Philippe Amaury), Formula E (single-seater motorsport championship that uses only electric cars), Extreme E (FIA-sanctioned international off-road racing series that uses spec electric SUVs to race in remote parts of the world, such as the Amazon rainforest or the Arctic), and from December, the first ever Saudi Arabian Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Historically, the Saudi sports industry was wholly reliant on Government funding. But following this policy change, the Government is aiming to accelerate the growth of the sports industry by increasing the role of the private sector participation.

NAFES will also aim to raise the percentage share of the sports industry’s contribution towards the Kingdom’s GDP, in addition to increasing and diversifying local and foreign investment opportunities, and ultimately raising the number of competitive clubs across a wide range of sports.

Prince Abdulaziz commented, “This was an organic development that falls in line with our efforts to position Saudi at the forefront of the sporting world globally and that is a crucial part in Saudi Vision 2030. As our sporting ambitions continue, we seek to collaborate with partners and strike a healthy balance between public and private sector investment.”

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