Saudi Arabia’s new region of NEOM has been praised by participants after successfully hosting a FIFA Beach Soccer tournament for the first time earlier this month.
The region, which constitutes an innovative, futuristic zone on the Red Sea with sport at the heart of its agenda, welcomed teams from England, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Egypt and China on the beaches of Gayal as it continued its journey to becoming the ‘world’s most ambitious project’.
The tournament was won by Oman after their thrilling extra-time triumph over Egypt, with the UAE coming third after beating Saudi Arabia in a penalty shoot-out and England placing fifth following their 4-3 win over China.
And the $500 billion venue has been widely praised by those who competed in the event.
Aaron Clarke, England captain, said: “You have the perfect weather and the perfect facilities – I think it’s world-class and amazing.
“I can now go home and tell everyone that I speak to about NEOM and how amazing it is – not only to come just for a sports competition, but in the future to come for tourism and holidays.”
The format of the competition saw teams compete in two groups of three, with Egypt topping Group A and Oman coming out winners of Group B.
And the subsequent play-off stages saw some compelling action on the Gayal sand, with Oman, the UAE and England all triumphing in their respective matches.
Echoing his captain’s sentiments, England coach Mark Mitchell said: “The facilities in NEOM are fantastic – for a first tournament, if they keep on striving they’ll be at the top in no time.
“The way we’ve been treated is second to none and the hospitality here is fantastic.”
NEOM actively seeks to promote sport at both elite and grassroots level, maximising human health and potential in order to place it on the global sporting map.
The beach soccer tournament came after the pristinely-kept Gayal – situated in the Kingdom’s north-west just north of Sharma – also successfully hosted the IWWF NEOM Wakeboard Cup, a beach tennis invitation event as well as beach rugby exhibitions.
And last week’s tournament also followed the equally spectacular Wing Suit and Climbing Challenge in April, an event that showcased NEOM’s picturesque mountains to over 300 million people and 105 countries from all over the world.
Jason Harborow, Managing Director of Sport at NEOM, said: “The potential is just massive – sport can be such a big economic driver when used properly and we want it to be at the heart of people’s lives.
“It’s important to remember that NEOM is not just for Saudi Arabia – it is a global project and for the Middle East region, the benefit will be huge.
“The vision is for this to be the destination of the future – we want NEOM to be the world’s healthiest population.”
NEOM was first announced to the public in 2017 by His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, with its name deriving from the the Ancient Greek prefix ‘neo’ – meaning ‘new’ – and an abbreviation of ‘Mostaqbal’ – an Arabic word meaning ‘future’.
It represents an integral part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, and in 2020 will host the annual Dakar Rally that will further showcase the region’s scenic landscape to both competing drivers and the rest of the world.