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 £66million 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 that was 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 for workers and women’s rights, as well as giving more freedom to visitors such as the right to drink alcohol, which boxing fans are denied this weekend.
Saudi Arabia have been criticised by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International for attempting to ‘sports-wash’ their global reputation by hosting events such as Saturday’s Clash on the Dunes, which has led to a backlash in some quarters.
Spanish state broadcaster RTVE is refusing to televise the inaugural edition of the rebooted Spanish Super Cup next month, which takes place in Jeddah.
The Spanish FA relaunched the competition earlier this year 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 10 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 £15million 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 it 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 evening.