Several athletes, climate activists and international government body officials are criticizing the decision to host the next Asian Winter Games at a Saudi Arabia resort “in the heart of the desert.”
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced that it had won the bid to host the next Asian Winter Games in 2029. The event will take place at TROJENA, a planned resort that will be completed in 2026.
“With the unlimited support by the Saudi leadership & HRH Crown Prince 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,” Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister, said in a tweet on Tuesday.
The TROJENA resort, which is part of Saudi Arabia’s futuristic $500 billion NEOM project, will reportedly feature a man-made freshwater lake and a nature reserve in addition to outdoor skiing activities. Located about 50 kilometers (approximately 31 miles) from the Gulf of Aqaba, TROJENA will cover a land area of nearly 60 square kilometers (approximately 23 square miles).
“TROJENA will have a suitable infrastructure to create the winter atmosphere in the heart of the desert, to make this Winter Games an unprecedented global event,” NEOM CEO Nadhmi al-Nasr said.
Following the announcement, several athletes and climate activists raised concerns about the impact of this plan on climate change.
Speaking to AP News, Italian skier and Olympic gold medalist Sofia Goggia admitted she was left “pretty much speechless.”
“Because we are going down a sustainable way and they are building this cathedral in the desert. This is something unreal and surreal,” the Italian athlete told AP News.
“I cannot find the right and common sense in building up something where the snow doesn’t come,” she continued. “The world cannot afford a loss of energy as the one would be involved to build this structure.”
Norwegian two-time Olympic medalist and former overall World Cup champion Aleksander Aamodt Kilde advised looking into the consequences of the planned event in Saudi Arabia. He also called on the International Ski and Snowboard Federation to reconsider “how we want to communicate our sport.”
“Why? What do we gain from it, where is this going, and how is it possible?” Kilde told AP News. “We see that the world is on fire, it’s really hot summers, it’s going to go bad in the end if you don’t do anything. For producing snow, you need water, and water is also a problem out there.”
Ski instructors, mayors from mountain resorts and the French Ski Federation also blasted the announcement in a joint statement on Thursday. They declared that they were “left flabbergasted” by the decision to host the Asian Winter Games “in a place naturally poor in precipitation and water, where there are no ski resorts or slopes to date.”
“We can only denounce this aberrant project, which is totally opposite to what is desirable for the planet,” they wrote. “It is only on this condition that future generations will be able to live happily on our planet and learn to ski.”
The French collective also insisted that everyone respect the 2015 Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty to limit global warming.
European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius also criticized the decision in a tweet on Tuesday, writing, “Something is fundamentally wrong here. Asian Winter Games to be organized in the desert.”
“If we want to be serious about lowering our impact on this planet we have to start by making conscious choices that respect Nature & the climate,” he continued.
Genevieve Guenther, the founding director of volunteer organization End Climate Silence, also slammed the decision in a tweet later that day, writing, “Saudi Arabia is going to burn absolutely disgusting amounts of fossil fuels ‘to create the winter atmosphere’ that will allow it to host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 (!), which has now become a f*cking FESTIVAL of climate denial.”
The 2029 Asian Winter Games will be the ninth edition of the multi-sport event that has been held irregularly since 1986. In addition to this international event, Saudi Arabia has plans to host the 2034 Asian Games in Riyadh and is reportedly leading a joint bid for the 2030 World Cup in soccer alongside Greece and Egypt.