Boxing and F1 weekend in Saudi Arabia is perfect showcase of kingdom's sporting dreams

The two events symbolize growing clout of Gulf nation as superpower of sport

Saudi Arabia at the centre of sports this weekend

Saudi Arabia at the centre of sports this weekend
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Saudi Arabia will be the centre of the sporting world this weekend, first as Anthony Joshua takes on Francis Ngannou in a heavyweight boxing clash at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh. And then as Formula One returns to Jeddah for the second Grand Prix of the season.

The two events symbolise the growing clout of Gulf nation across the sporting world.

The signings of football superstars such as Christiano Rolando, Karim Benzema and Neymar have catapulted the Saudi Pro League on to the global stage. Indeed, it was second only to the English Premier League in spending on transfer fees over the summer, according to data from Transfermarkt.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia last week launched its formal bid to host the 2034 World Cup, as it looks to become the second country from the Middle East to hold the tournament after Qatar in 2022. With Morocco, Portugal and Spain set to share the hosting of the 2030 tournament, football's world governing body Fifa limited the 2034 contest to bidders from the Asian and Oceania confederations.

No other country expressed an interest before Fifa's October 2023 deadline, after Australia opted out of contesting for the global finals, meaning that the kingdom's bid is all but certain to succeed. Away from football, two-time golf major winner Jon Rahm confirmed in December that he is leaving the PGA Tour to join LIV Golf in what is reported to be a deal worth around $500 million.

He had previously ruled out jumping ship to the Saudi Arabia-funded circuit but made a U-turn in what is a huge boost to LIV golf – and a body blow for the PGA Tour.

And in tennis the ATP, which is the men’s professional tour, and the Public Investment Fund last week agreed to a five-year partnership that will make the country a major sponsor of the sport.

The last time Ngannou fought at the Kingdom stadium, a huge crowd of 26,000 spectators turned out to watch him lose in a controversial split decision to Tyson Fury. Attendees included Kanye West, Conor McGregor and Eminem.

Just how close a contest it proved to be came as a surprise to many, given that the Cameroonian had made the switch from MMA to boxing. He’ll be hoping for an upset again second time round early on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is expected to attract more than 150,000 spectators, as Jeddah hosts the race for a fourth time.

Published: March 08, 2024, 2:21 PM