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Neom: Yet-to-be-built Saudi resort chosen to host 2029 Asian Winter Games

Event to be held at Trojena sports city as kingdom becomes first country in the Middle East to be awarded the games
Trojena, set to be built in the Sarawat mountains, is located 50km east of the Red Sea coast and is 10 degrees Celsius cooler on average than the rest of the region (Twitter/Neom)

Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it had been chosen to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games at a planned mountain resort in the kingdom's $500bn Neom project.

Neom's yet-to-be-built Trojena sports city was the only candidate for the 2029 Asian Winter Games, which have not been held since 2017 as the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) has struggled to find hosts.

Saudi Arabia will be the first country in the Middle East to host the games, which first took place in Japan in 1986.

The resort is expected to be completed in 2026 and will offer outdoor skiing, a man-made freshwater lake and a nature reserve, according to the project's website.

"With the unlimited support by the Saudi leadership & HRH Crown Prince (Mohammed Bin Salman) to the sport sector we are proud to announce we have won the bid to host AWG TROJENA2029 as the first country in west Asia," Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al Faisal said on Twitter.

Trojena is part of Neom, a planned megacity and the brainchild of the crown prince at the centre of plans to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from petrodollars.

The resort, set to be built in the Sarawat mountains, is located 50km east of the Red Sea coast and is 10 degrees Celsius cooler on average than the rest of the region. Saudi Arabia says it will host an "all-year ski village".

Skiing is not new to the Middle East. Lebanon is home to Mzaar and Faraya ski resorts, which have traditionally been magnets for wealthy Gulf vacationers. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all boast indoor ski resorts, but Trojena would be the first outdoor facility. 

While the area is one of the few locations in the desert kingdom that receives snow, it's unclear whether there would be enough to support winter sports activities on the scale Saudi Arabia envisions. Around 700,000 tourists are predicted to visit each year once the project is completed in 2026.

Besides a ski village, Saudi Arabia says Trojena will include ultra-luxury family and wellness resorts, retail stores and restaurants. A vertical village is also set to be carved into the mountainside.

'Blowing up the landscape'

Many have called into question the feasibility of Neom. The deadline for the city's completion is set for 2025, but there is little evidence on the ground of building progress having been made.

The project has already been stymied by delays and hit by an exodus of employees, many of them western consultants, who have complained about Saudi executives' unreachable demands.

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Former employees have said Neom CEO Nadhmi al-Nasr has a short temper and often issues threats to workers. 

He once said he would "pull out a gun and start shooting if he wasn't told who was to blame" for two e-sports companies cancelling a partnership with Neom over human rights concerns, according to two witnesses. Nasr disputed the claims.

Some have also challenged Neom's status as a carbon-neutral, environmentally friendly futuristic city.

The construction of Trojena, for example, would require "blowing up large portions of the landscape" to build an artificial lake in the centre of the resort, according to Bloomberg. 

Saudi Arabia is putting sports at the centre of its economic diversification plan but rights groups accuse the kingdom of using such events to distract from its human rights violations.

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