The reactions were not long in coming after the announcement, Tuesday, October 4, of the awarding of the Asian Winter Games 2029 to Saudi Arabia. The huge country, known for its vast expanses of desert, will in seven years host a myriad of winter sports in a newly built megalopolis in the northwest of the Kingdom.
Contacted by franceinfo: sport, Mael Besson, specialist in the ecological transition of sport, former head of the WWF and former head of the « sustainable development and ecological transition » mission at the Ministry of Sports, expresses his incomprehension after the validation of a project in opposition to global environmental emergencies.
Franceinfo: sport: In the midst of a controversy over the World Cup in Qatar, how can we welcome this news, namely the organization of Winter Games in a country like Saudi Arabia?
Mael Besson: It’s a fairly clear ecological disaster. We are in a major environmental emergency and the consequences of environmental and climatic disturbances are beginning to be present and to have a profound impact on sport. We saw it this summer with periods of very hot weather, we will see it this winter with questions of snow cover… I piloted a report when I was at the WWF on the impact of climate change on sports, and those kinds of decisions and ecological aberrations, it only seriously compromises our ability to have a habitable planet, and therefore to be able to play sports. It’s counterproductive. It is a disaster for the environment and for the values of sport.
The deserts & mountains of #SaudiArabia will soon be a playground for Winter sports!#NEOMTrojena city has been unanimously chosen to host the 2029 #AsianWinterGames by delegates at the #41stGeneralAssembly. #Announcement @saudiolympic @NEOMTROJENA pic.twitter.com/sH154g2LUI
—Olympic Council of Asia (@AsianGamesOCA) October 4, 2022
You point the finger at international bodies such as the IOC or FIFA…
Yes, for me they are completely discredited in their legitimacy to carry the values of sport. The International Olympic Committee, via the Olympic Council of Asia (body bringing together 45 National Olympic Committees and affiliated to the IOC), is no longer legitimate for me to speak of living together, on a livable planet, of promoting events that are eco-responsible… There is a total loss of credibility. One can wonder about the legitimacy of the IOC and FIFA to be able to represent the world of sport.
Does this mean that we are not immune to seeing other major international events take the same direction? If ethical considerations and climate responsibilities do not exist…
As long as we don’t show disagreement, lack of interest or opposition to these kinds of projects, and as long as we continue to feed the economic system as it exists, we will unfortunately have projects of this type.
Saudi Arabia’s argument could be to say that it is a project financed 100% by the Kingdom, that it is sovereign on its territory…?
We may have sovereign states, but we are on a global environmental climate. So the actions of some impact the climate of all the others. We cannot reflect on the scale of a State or a region of the world on the climate. If we go in this direction, sport risks becoming the symbol of social injustice in the face of climate change. Certain populations, certain athletes, certain competitions would have the right to consume resources, emit greenhouse gases, where other types of population will suffer the consequences? Sport will find itself in a class struggle, it’s a bit like what we have in certain disciplines.
Saudi Arabia has won the right to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games. They will take place in TROJENA, which forms part of NEOM. It’s a mountain resort due to be finished in 2026. This was a big priority for KSI as part of their Vision 2030 sports strategy.https://t.co/xJgwCjR7DI
— Ben Jacobs (@JacobsBen) October 4, 2022
How is it possible to put pressure so that this kind of projects and applications do not see the light of day?
These international federations having difficulty in changing their models, they must be helped to do so. States and cities that disagree with these types of projects can put pressure on these international bodies to modify their specifications, rules and visions. The big cities, which are mobilizing one after the other to announce that they will not broadcast the World Cup in Qatar, must affirm to the IOC and these bodies that as long as they have these visions of world sport, they will no longer apply. . These climaticide projects must be clearly excluded in the specifications. These projects must not be able to exist at the present time with regard to environmental emergencies. It is contrary to the very values of Olympism.