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Thu 10 Sep 2020 12:33 PM

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Saudi Arabia eyes global sporting status as it seeks to host 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Saudi Arabian Football Federation has announced the launch of its campaign to host the 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia eyes global sporting status as it seeks to host 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia has won the AFC Asian Cup three times and qualified for the FIFA World Cup five times but until now has never hosted an official AFC Asian Cup in the kingdom. Image: Getty Images

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) has announced the launch of its campaign to host the 2027 AFC Asian Cup, the latest in a big drive to attract major sporting events to the kingdom.

Officials said bringing the AFC Asian Cup to Saudi Arabia for the first-time ever is the opportunity to ensure that the football momentum being created in the region is "renewed and expanded".

SAFF President Yasser Al-Mashal said: “As we in Saudi Arabia undertake our own transformation forward through our national Vision 2030, we want to use our long-standing passion for football as a catalyst for the continued growth of football across Asia. Our vision for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup is to build much more than a tournament.

"We want to create a massive move forward for all of Asia, one that is focused on creating a new experience, a new exchange and a new expansion. We look forward to sharing our ideas with the entire Asian football family in the coming months.”

The kingdom has accelerated investment in glitzy sports and entertainment events in a bid to soften its image and boost jobs and investment in the sectors.

Saudi Arabia's tourism commission was elevated to become a ministry in February, with its chief Ahmed al-Khatib, a royal advisor, retaining the top job just months after the kingdom started issuing tourist visas for the first time.

Current sports czar Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki was put in charge of the new sports ministry as the kingdom hosts multi-billion dollar extravaganzas - from major football leagues to boxing and women's wrestling.

Saudi Arabia has won the AFC Asian Cup three times and qualified for the FIFA World Cup five times but until now has never hosted an official AFC Asian Cup in the kingdom.

SAFF general secretary, Ibrahim Alkassim, added: “The Saudi Arabian Football Association is not only committed to hosting an exceptional AFC Asian Cup in 2027, but we are also committed to creating a strong impact across Asian football as part of organizing the tournament here in Saudi Arabia. Bringing the AFC Asian Cup to Saudi Arabia for the first-time ever, is the unique opportunity to carry forward the momentum of football in our region and across Asia. We are committed to making a 2027 Asian Cup in Saudi Arabia a huge step forward for all AFC Member Associations.”

The Saudi 2027 bid logo represents the combination of three elements, the golden falcon, football and wings.

Saudi Arabia is focusing increasingly on sport, all linked to the kingdom’s Vision 2030. Diriyah Season last year included events like the Diriyah E-Prix, the Diriyah Equestrian Festival and Diriyah Music Festival.

The kingdom also hosted the Andy Ruiz-Anthony Joshua fight when thousands of fans from more than 60 countries filled a purpose-built 15,000-seat Diriyah Arena in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Speaking last year, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority, said he hoped the benefits of hosting these type of events would include job creation and catalysing the economy.

“Hopefully soon, we can also see Saudi citizens competing and becoming champions in each and every one of these sports,” he added.

Saudi Arabia is also aiming to be a tourism hotspot and Saudi Summer, the kingdom’s largest ever domestic leisure tourism campaign, boosted tourism spending to SR6 billion ($1.6 billion) during the first half of the initiative this summer.

Launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority (STA), spending in the seven weeks since the campaign launch showed an increase of 26 percent over the same period last year.

Through partnerships with 90 tourism businesses, including hotels, tour operators and destination management companies, spending on recreation and cultural activities exceeded SR1 billion, an increase of 25 percent over 2019. Spending in restaurants amounted to SR3.8 billion, an increase of 38 percent over last year.

By comparison, the UK's economy is expected to lose about £22 billion ($29 billion) this year on the coronavirus-induced collapse of global travel.

International visitor spending could plunge by 78 percent from 2019, equating to a loss of £60 million per day or £420 million a week, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) predicted in a key report.

The Saudi Summer campaign also included Saudi Arabia’s first ever leisure cruise offering on the Red Sea.

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