South Korea should seize the moment amid Saudi Arabia’s sportswashing attempts

2023.11.03 18:24:02 | 2023.11.03 18:33:39

[Courtesy of Samsung Electronics]이미지 확대

[Courtesy of Samsung Electronics]



In the world of international sports and diplomacy, Saudi Arabia‘s bid to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup, one of sport’s grandest spectacles, has reignited the debate surrounding “sportswashing.” The term, a portmanteu of sports and whitewashing, questions Saudi Arabia’s intentions in hosting such high-profile events. Critics argue that the kingdom could be strategically leveraging its role as a host to divert international attention away from its political landscape, marred by crackdowns on dissidents, media suppression, and women’s rights issues.

Thanks to its substantial oil wealth, Saudi Arabia has successfully bid to host a series of major international events, including the 2027 Asian Cup, the 2029 Winter Asian Games, and the forthcoming 2034 Summer Asian Games. In a bold move, the kingdom has also entered the bidding race for the 2036 Summer Olympics, solidifying its status as a key player on the global stage. Notably, the selection of the host city for the 2034 World Cup, with a joint bid by Australia and Indonesia among the candidates, took a surprising turn when Indonesia threw its support behind Saudi Arabia, leading to Australia’s withdrawal and leaving Saudi Arabia as the sole candidate.

These developments have raised concerns and criticisms from various quarters, particularly regarding the influence of oil money on global sports and events. The merger of the global professional golf tour LIV Tour, sponsored by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, with the U.S. and European PGAs in 2025 was met with accusations of attempting to dominate the world of golf via financial power.

Saudi Arabia’s bid for the World Cup is also not without controversy, particularly for Europe, which places a high emphasis on human rights issues. The U.K.’s BBC labeled the bid as a form of “sportswashing” by the Saudi government, sparking international debate and scrutiny.

In this context, international sentiment is expected to be relatively favorable towards South Korea’s last-minute bid for the 2030 World Expo. This serves as a compelling argument to persuade other member states of the merits of Busan’s proposal. With only 25 days remaining until the Expo bid announcement, a dedicated effort from the Korean government and businesses could turn this scenario into a reality. “Busan is Ready” remains the rallying cry, and it is not an unattainable goal should the commitment to it remain steady.

By Editorial Team

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