Lausanne, Switzerland – As the first major international multisport event ever held in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Riyadh 2023 World Combat Games exceeded all expectations this 20-30 October in the Saudi Arabian capital.
Housed under one roof at the King Saud University Arena, the event featured over 1,500 athletes from 120+ countries competing in 16 martial arts and combat sports: Aikido, Armwrestling, Boxing, Fencing, Judo, Ju-jitsu, Karate, Kendo, Kickboxing, Muaythai, SAMBO, Savate, Sumo, Taekwondo, Wrestling and Wushu.
From an organisational standpoint, athletes, officials, and spectators were treated to a first-rate experience. The local staff and volunteers ensured that every need was taken care of, accommodation and transportation were exemplary, and the quality of the sports presentation and competition was world class.
The Games also left behind legacies that will benefit the host country and its population for years to come, according to Riyadh 2023 CEO Ian Reid, while setting a new standard for hosts of future sporting events in areas such as planning, sustainability, and inclusivity.
“We succeeded in staging a complex multisport Games with a high-quality field of play, satisfied athletes, and excellent performances from Team Saudi Arabia,” said Reid. “All of our experiences at Riyadh 2023 will help the Saudis be even better prepared for future sports events held in the Kingdom, as they have proven that they can organize at a very high level, secure commercial partners, attract leading broadcasters, and so much more. Riyadh 2023 will live on for years to come in many different guises and we are excited to see what comes next.”
In terms of coverage, the World Combat Games were shown in over 100 countries and live streamed globally. The event was broadcast by Arena Sport in Europe, BeIN Sports and SpoTV in Asia, CEEN TV in Canada, Combate in Brazil, New World TV in Africa, and Sportsmax in the Caribbean. La Liga TV and the Olympic Channel covered the territories of Europe not secured by Arena, while the Olympic Channel also broadcast in North and South America. The full list of broadcasters can be found here.
The Riyadh 2023 Local Organising Committee also had no issue attracting sponsors, enlisting the help of luxury car brand Genesis, outdoor solution provider AlArabia, catering company SilverSpoon, immersive content and experience platform VUZ, and many others.
As a Presenting Partner, Genesis provided transportation services for guests of the World Combat Games and displayed its latest line of luxury car models in the fan zone. It was an excellent opportunity for the luxury automotive company to make inroads in the Saudi market while also introducing its fleet of high-end vehicles to international visitors.
“We were proud to partner with the Riyadh 2023 World Combat Games, which shared our commitment to excellence in everything we do,” said Omar Al Zubaidi, CEO of Genesis. “The feedback we received from guests and our employees was very positive, and our return on investment was significant. It was an excellent partnership that benefited both parties and we are pleased to have played a role in the overall success of the event.”
One of the less tangible but no less important legacies of Riyadh 2023 was the impact the event had on increasing sports participation in the Kingdom.
While it is still too early to quantify the exact boost in physical activity, the Riyadh 2023 Local Organising Committee is confident that the World Combat Games have inspired many Saudis, in particular young people, to take up a martial art or combat sport.
This initiative was aided by the granting of free admission to the Games to children under 12 and others, as well as a special outreach programme designed and delivered by the Saudi Arabia National Olympic & Paralympic Committee and United Through Sports (UTS), an alliance of organisations and people working together to bring inclusion, unity, and equality to the world through sports.
As part of the programme, local schoolchildren were introduced to martial arts such as Judo, Muaythai and Boxing during the World Combat Games and encouraged to lead active and healthy lifestyles through sport.
Key to connecting with the schoolchildren was the presence of Saudi National Team athletes competing at Riyadh 2023. Their personal stories of how they first got into their sports before rising up the ranks resonated deeply with the youngsters, who were eager to try out some of the basic techniques with their new idols. It is estimated that the programme reached upwards of 5,000 kids during the Games.
“Saudi Arabia is hosting the Asian Games in 2034, so these children are the champions of 2034,” said World Combat Games Chair Stephan Fox. “We want to reach them now and inspire them to hopefully start doing Judo, Taekwondo, or another martial art.”
Preparing for the future was exactly what Saudi Arabia did with Riyadh 2023. Not known as a combat sports powerhouse, Team Saudi Arabia nevertheless used the staging of the World Combat Games as the perfect opportunity to give its aspiring young athletes vital international experience against some of the world’s top martial arts and combat sports practitioners.
In the end, Team Saudi defied all expectations to finish second behind the Ukraine in the medal standings, claiming an impressive 12 gold, 20 silver, and 19 bronze medals. And while not all the Saudi athletes made the podium, each gained valuable insight into what it takes to compete at the elite level.
“Obviously Saudi Arabia is not on the level of major martial arts nations yet, but they’ve done really well because they trained very hard knowing they will compete here against the best in the world,” said Fox. “This is the perfect time to dream about ending up on the podium and at the same time a wake-up call: If you want to be in the Olympic Games and you want to win an Olympic medal, you need to catch up as quickly as you can.”
The same sentiment could be applied to Saudi Arabia bidding to host the Olympic Games, something the Kingdom is rumoured to be considering. The lessons learned at Riyadh 2023 will certainly be applied at future events held in the country, which has hosted no fewer than 80 international sports competitions since 2018. They include the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix (F1), the Italian and Spanish Super Cups (football), and numerous high-profile boxing matches, the most recent of which was the heavyweight bout between Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou. In addition to a possible Olympic bid, Saudi Arabia is already set to host two of the world’s other biggest sporting events: the Asian Games and the FIFA World Cup, both in 2034.
The need for a highly trained workforce familiar with how such mega sporting events operate is therefore crucial and is another key legacy of Riyadh 2023. In addition to giving their athletes valuable experience on the international stage, the World Combat Games also provided a young and ambitious workforce and team of volunteers with hands-on experience in areas such as event management, security, catering, and tourism. These workers and volunteers can now apply all that they have learned to help other sports projects and industries in the country.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not have a long tradition of volunteerism, so Riyadh 2023 was an exciting first step,” said Riyadh 2023 CEO Reid. “Not only did our volunteers gain a rich experience at the World Combat Games, our staff also learned how important teamwork, flexibility and a can-do attitude are to the success of such events. These are not skills that can be readily learned from books or classes online – they must be obtained first-hand from actually living through it.”
The Games were also an excellent opportunity for Olympic Movement stakeholders such as Swiss Timing, the Official Timekeeper of the Olympic Games along with its sister company OMEGA, to test their operational readiness ahead of next year’s Olympic Games Paris 2024.
Swiss Timing has decades of experience working with Olympic Movement stakeholders and multisport events around the world, but with rapid changes in technology and a constant drive to keep improving, the company is always adapting itself to meet the latest requirements.
Riyadh 2023 allowed Swiss Timing to test out its timekeeping and scoring capabilities, as well as graphics, results and other information for TV, streaming, and scoreboards on the field of play – all of which will be used at next year’s Olympic Games Paris 2024.
“Riyadh 2023 gave us the perfect opportunity to test out some of our new technologies while guaranteeing Olympic-level services to all athletes participating,” said Swiss Timing CEO Alain Zobrist. “With 16 sports, the World Combat Games offer a similar environment to that of the Olympic Games, so we could use that opportunity to get best prepared for the upcoming Olympic Games Paris 2024. Overall, we were extremely pleased at how things went.”
Riyadh 2023 is likely to live on in other ways as well, including at future multisports events around the world where organizers look to capitalize on some of the ground-breaking innovations introduced at this edition of the World Combat Games.
These include Local Organizing Committee’s commitment to inclusivity and sustainability. In a powerful message of unity and empowerment, Para and Special athletes competed alongside their able-bodied compatriots on the same national teams, with all results counting toward a unified medals table.
Six sports – Aikido, Armwrestling, Ju-Jitsu, Muaythai, SAMBO and Savate – featured Para and Special competitions in Riyadh. In total, 60 athletes with physical, intellectual, or visual impairments competed at Riyadh 2023. They represented 32 countries.
Another unique feature of these Games was that all 16 sports were organised together at the same venue, thereby drastically reducing the carbon footprint of the event while also making travel between the sports quicker and easier for the athletes, officials, and spectators in attendance.
In myriad ways, the Riyadh 2023 World Combat Games have carved out a new and exciting path for future event organizers to follow around the world, while also ensuring their powerful and long-lasting legacy.
— ENDS —
EDITOR’S NOTE: The World Combat Games are an international multi-sport event featuring the best athletes in combat sports and martial arts. They were established to celebrate the athletes and values of these sports in one place, and to expose them to an international audience. The World Combat Games concept aims for a compact and manageable event that offers cities an opportunity for focused international promotion, engagement with local communities (in particular young people), and the advancement of public health and wellness agendas through inspiring initiatives encouraging participation in combat sports.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]