PARIS: The Saudi capital Riyadh on Tuesday won the right to host the 2030 World Expo, easily defeating rival bids from Italy and South Korea as well as overcoming objections from rights activists.
Needing only one round of voting and securing the necessary two-thirds majority of member states at the general assembly of organisers Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) in Paris, Riyadh won 119 votes, South Korea’s Busan 29 and Italian capital Rome 17, the BIE said.
Hosting the Expo is of immense importance for Saudi Arabia, whose bid was spearheaded by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, as he seeks to secure the world’s top events to showcase the kingdom across the globe.
The kingdom is also set to host the 2034 football World Cup after emerging as the only bidder for the event.
The date of 2030 is hugely symbolic for Saudi, coinciding with the key milestone in the Vision 2030 programme of MBS to diversify Saudi Arabia economically and culturally.
The Riyadh Expo is set to take place from October 2030 to March 2031 on the theme “The Era of Change: Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow”, according to the Saudi bid.
But many rights groups had expressed dismay over Saudi Arabia winning the bid, arguing that MBS’s glitzy reform drives hide a reality where dissidents are imprisoned and executions rampant.
Concern over Saudi’s rights record under MBS has always been symbolised by the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
But Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan in his final presentation pledged an “unwavering commitment to collaborate with all nations to deliver an Expo built by the world for the world”.
“As we work diligently to grow and transform our economy we believe the kingdom’s progress, regional development and the health of the global economy will advance in lockstep,” he said.