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Saudi Arabia’s Building a $500 Billion City for the Asian Winter Games

  • Saudi Arabia is set to become the first country in West Asia to host the Winter Asian Games.
  • The desert kingdom plans to host the event in Neom, a megacity that’s yet to be built. 
  • Planners said Neom’s features include flying taxis, robot maids, and a year-round ski resort.

Saudi Arabia just won a bid to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games. The location? A development that doesn’t yet exist, within a futuristic city that doesn’t yet exist. 

“The deserts and mountains of Saudi Arabia will soon be a playground for winter sports,” the Olympic Council of Asia, or OCA, said in a statement, as quoted by the AFP.

A planned mountain resort in Neom will be the event’s venue, Saudi Arabia said. The $500 billion city is expected to accommodate up to 9 million residents by 2045, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman — who’s the chairman of Neom’s board — said in July. Neom is expected to cover over 16,5000 square kilometers, or around 10,230 square miles, making it bigger than Israel or Kuwait, per a February report by the BBC.

The games are slated to take place in Trojena, a development within Neom that includes a year-round ski complex, a freshwater lake, and luxury hotels, according to Neom’s official website. Trojena is about 30 miles from the Saudi coastline and winter temperatures are often below freezing.

But, like the rest of Neom, Trojena doesn’t exist yet; it’s slated to be completed in 2026, per the AFP.

Russia's Kamaz's driver Airat Mardeev, co-driver Akhmet Galiautdinov and Dmitry Svistunov compete by the Red Sea during the Stage 9 of the Dakar Rally 2021 around Neom, Saudi Arabia, on January 12, 2021.

Neom, Saudi Arabia, on January 12, 2021.

Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

The project is one of the most controversial in Saudi history.

Planners, architects, and economists have expressed skepticism about the feasibility of Neom, which touts technologies that don’t yet exist. Some of the plans that have raised eyebrows include incorporating flying taxis, robot maids, and a “giant artificial moon” into the project, according to a 2019 report by the Wall Street Journal.

The construction of Neom was announced in 2017.

Five years after the project was announced, it’s unclear to what degree construction has been completed. The city has a residential camp of 2,000 employees, according to a July report by Bloomberg. The residential camp, called Neom Community 1, is made up of “neat lawns and identical white homes” the size of shipping containers, which the report compared to “a Google campus and a minimum security prison.”

“I was not alone in realizing that it was spurious at best,” Andy Wirth, an American hospitality executive who worked on Neom in 2020, told Bloomberg. “The complete absence of being tethered to reality, objectively, is what was demonstrated there.”

The Asian Winter Games are held every four years. Saudi Arabia stands to be the first West Asian country to host the event, which was most recently held in Sapporo, Japan, in 2017.

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