cycling | The Saudi Crown Prince is behind the name of the new sponsor Team Groenewegen

The official sponsor is the Royal Commission for Al-Ula Governorate. The commission is trying to attract at least two million tourists to the Saudi city by 2035. The head of this commission is the controversial Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Photo: Getty Images

It is said that bin Salman was behind the killing of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was murdered in 2018 in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. According to US intelligence services, the crown prince gave permission for the plan. However, he cannot be prosecuted as he enjoys immunity as Prime Minister.

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Last year, the Crown Prince bought the English football club Newcastle.

tourism aspirations

Al-Ula is a city in northwestern Saudi Arabia. The city and the surrounding area have big plans to bring more tourists to the area. In the year 2035, two million visitors should visit the ancient desert city. To fulfill these tourism ambitions, the Saudi government has allowed international flights at Al-Ula Airport from 2021. The regional airport has also received a facelift to welcome wealthy foreign tourists.

With only an airport, people don’t come. Cycling plays a major role in making the area more popular. In 2021, for example, the city became the jersey sponsor of the Australian team BikeExchange-Jayco. The first edition of the Saudi Tour was also held that year. A five-day stage race in which AlUla served as a base and was visited several times in the race. Both stages – which finished in the old part of town – were won by Dylan Groenewegen, with the last place as a sponsor on his arm.

While the Saudi Tour’s ASO organizer spoke about ambitions to make cycling in the Arabian subcontinent more popular, the president of the Saudi Federation, Saibah Al-Kuraidis, was more explicit in his goals: “The Saudi Tour is a great way to show visitors the width of the diverse nature and historical places of our country. The tour matches his ambition government in promoting the kingdom beyond its borders.”

Sports wash

Al-Ula’s collaboration with the Australian cycling team and the new Saudi Tour are not isolated events. Human rights organization Grant Liberty calculated Saudi Arabia has spent 1.3 billion euros in recent years to organize sports competitions. For example, the oil state organized competitions footballAnd the boxingAnd the golf and the Formula 1.

Formula 1 circuit in Jeddah

Photo: AFP

A country that has been criticized for the treatment of its citizens is trying to put itself in a better international light. This practice is also referred to asSports washHe called for: using sports to divert attention from the human rights violations that are also occurring in the country.

Qatar also received this criticism in the last World Cup soccer. While the country is violating human rights, the world is watching the country’s well-organized World Cup, raising its reputation. Amnesty International in Qatar notes, among other things, human rights abuses among migrants, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

These concerns are even greater in Saudi Arabia. The country is on the Freedom Index of the American Organization Freedom House In the 187th place, seventh to last. There is less freedom in Syria, Eritrea, South Sudan, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Equatorial Guinea. Qatar ranks 155th.

Enthusiasm and motivation

The press release issued by the Australian team does not contain anything about the lack of freedom, human rights abuses, or the Saudi crown prince. Athletic Director Brent Copeland: “We are proud as a team. We feel their enthusiasm and motivation and look forward to working with them for the next three years.”

Three Dutchmen will drive for Jayco-AlUla next season. Dylan Groenevine has already led the selection. This winter, Jan Maas and Elmar Reynders have been added to the squad.

Where are you looking?

The 2022-2023 cycling season can of course be watched via Eurosport. to Discover + You really don’t miss a kilometer. All matches will be broadcast with Dutch commentary.

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