Sunday June 23, 2024

Ambitious Saudis look to homegrown talent for future success

By Reuters
May 22, 2024
Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman seen in this undated photo.— Reuters/file
Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman seen in this undated photo.— Reuters/file

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia will look to homegrown talent to expand its base of elite athletes rather than follow its neighbours down the path of naturalising foreigners, the media chief of the Saudi Olympic Committee told Reuters.

Funding from the country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which manages more than $700 billion in assets, has rocketed the country to major-player status in world of sport over a few short years.

Developing talent is a longer-term project not easily accelerated by financial muscle, and Saudi Arabia will need more than the 33 athletes it sent to the Tokyo Olympics if it wants to host the Summer Games.

Qatar trod a similar investment-led path of development, culminating in the hosting of the 2022 soccer World Cup, but with citizens making up only 10% of its tiny population, it had to be creative about producing sporting talent.

The result was a policy in which athletes from around the world were offered cash and limited citizenship to compete for Qatar and supplement local talent. Five of the seven athletes who have won Olympic medals for Qatar were born outside the emirate, and other Gulf nations such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have followed suit in the pursuit of sporting success.

“Naturalisation is an issue that is ultimately subject to circumstances and the stage you have reached,” said Abdulaziz Albaqous, director of corporate communications and international relations at the Saudi Olympic Committee.

“But we prefer to invest in the future, in the generation that already exists to produce champions through a successful sports system,” he added. “We always tend to produce future champions from within society.” Saudi Arabia’s population of some 37 million dwarfs those of its neighbours, and Albaqous is convinced that there will be plenty of talent unearthed by various initiatives, some already under way.