Saudi Arabia: 'Future wonder of the world' on its way?

source: Populous, Qiddiya; author: Miguel Ciołczyk Garcia

Saudi Arabia: 'Future wonder of the world' on its way? The Las Vegas of sport. That's what Qiddiya’s sports supercity project can be called. Even being hostile towards Saudi Arabia, it's hard not to lose your breath at the sight of the new renderings of Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Stadium. So what is happening on the construction site?


Giant project faces gigantic delays

In 2018, an impressive project was announced for Qiddiya, a sports city (not town) 50 km south-west of Riyadh that would include Qiddiya Stadium, an Esports arena, minor sports facilities, hospitals, residential buildings, hotels, attraction parks, shopping malls and even a racetrack for Formula One.

The project has encountered long delays, as the stadium was already scheduled to host Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal matches in 2023. Meanwhile, it was not until December that Saudi officials admitted to a major lag, arguing that they wanted to avoid "huge inflationary pressures and supply bottlenecks". We then learned of further plans for, among other things, the stadium, but as it turned out, they were not final.

Design of stadium in Qiddiya© Populous

New stadium design set to break records

While the previous stadium design by Populous was already impressive, the renderings by the same company presented in the second half of January are even better. Suspended over a 200-metre-high cliff, the venue will have a unique look, straight out of a film about the future. It has taken over from its predecessor with the absence of a single stand, which will reveal spectacular views of the mountainous landscape to spectators.

The Saudis are determined to make their new facility unique in the world. They are presenting it as "the first stadium on the edge of a cliff" "the first stadium to combine a sliding pitch, roof and wall", with "the largest LED wall" and "the most adaptable stadium". It is to cover an area of 197,000 m2.

Design of stadium in Qiddiya© Populous

What will the new arena look like?

The retractable LED wall is expected to provide views of the outdoors during matches, but together with the retractable pitch, it will make organising a concert a few hours before the game no problem. The central structure of the stadium will be surrounded by towers, where spectators will be able to participate in various events and attractions before and after the game, and even interact with holograms of the stars.

However, this is not the end of the changes. The planned capacity of the arena, which will be connected directly to the ESports arena, has doubled from the original design to 45,000 seats. It has also been given a new name - Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Stadium, in honour of the prince, prime minister, head of the project and heir to the Saudi throne.

Design of stadium in Qiddiya© Populous

How is the construction of Qiddiya City progressing?

While it is difficult to expect work on the facility unveiled a few days ago to start in the coming days, in Qiddiya City the authorities are boasting about the progress of the work. The Water Park is expected to be 61% complete, as is the all-important Six Flags Park. Work has already finished on the golf courses. The same figures were already reported in December, and there is no information about other work on other facilities.

The venture is expected to create 325,000 jobs and be eco-friendly according to the authorities. Sustainability is to be ensured by the use of recycled materials, water conservation and care for local wildlife, as well as eco-friendly transport. However, is this enough for such a large-scale project?

Despite the delays, there is optimism

Notwithstanding the fact that some planned handover dates have been pushed back by several years, the Saudis, at least 'outwardly', are optimistic. In December, Prince bin Salman, director of the Qiddiya Investment Company, announced a master plan for the city.

According to the prince, the city will become one of the world's top destinations and help bring Arabia into the world's top 10 economies. However, it is notable that not even an estimated opening date has been announced.

Design of stadium in Qiddiya© Populous

What will Qiddiya City's profits be?

According to estimates, Qiddiya will welcome 48 million tourists a year, 7.6 million of whom will come exclusively for football matches. The city is to consist of 60,000 buildings and the number of residents will reach 600,000. The entire investment is expected to generate the equivalent of $36 billion annually, as much as 1/7 of Saudi Arabia's current budget.

The project is one of the most important elements of the Saudi government's Saudi Vision 2030 plan, which aims to diversify the oil-dependent economy and make the country more attractive to investors. However, it is unlikely that the city will be completed by 2030.

Design of stadium in Qiddiya© Populous

When will Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Stadium open?

FIFA recently awarded the hosting of the 2034 World Cup to Saudi Arabia in controversial circumstances, hence one can guess that at least part of Qiddiya City, including the innovative stadium, will be handed over before the World Cup so that the sporting super city can host the teams vying for the world title.

Meanwhile, Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, which are ranked 1st and 2nd respectively in the Saudi Professional League, will continue to play at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium and Al-Awwal Park pending the construction of the new facility. Both teams signed a 20-year contract with the Qiddiya Investment Company in 2022.

It has to be said that the project for both the city and the stadium itself is extremely ambitious. And while it is well known that the line between ambition and hubris is a fine one, we will have to wait a few more years to judge the execution of the first sports super city project.

Design of stadium in Qiddiya© Populous