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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Saudi Arabia seeks home-grown artists and Olympic athletes in 50bn riyal lifestyle boost

Government launches "Quality of Life 2020" programme to develop sports clubs, island for arts and theme parks

Ahmed Al Khatib, director of  the General Authority for Entertainment, speaks at the Quality of Life Programme 2020 conference in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia plans to spend 50 billion riyals by 2020 on an initiative to promote entertainment, health, sports and education. Fayez Nureldine / AFP Photo
Ahmed Al Khatib, director of  the General Authority for Entertainment, speaks at the Quality of Life Programme 2020 conference in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia plans to spend 50 billion riyals by 2020 on an initiative to promote entertainment, health, sports and education. Fayez Nureldine / AFP Photo

Saudi Arabia will spend 50 billion riyals by 2020 to promote sport, entertainment, arts and culture in the country, marking the latest initiative in a series of social and economic reforms to modernise the kingdom.

The so-called "Quality of Life 2020" programme aims to propel three Saudi cities onto a list of the world’s 100 most liveable cities by 2030, according to a statement by the Ministry of Culture and Information on Thursday. It is expected to generate 346,000 jobs and contribute 1.9 billion riyals in non-oil revenues within two years.

“The programme encourages the private sector and foreign investors to invest in many vital markets related to improving the quality of life,” according to the statement.

Quality of Life will create spaces for public gathering and interaction that have been scarce given the kingdom’s previously strict social customs. In recent months, the country has been opening cinemas, hosting a fashion week, music concerts and wrestling events as well as announcing new theme parks. The change is part of the Vision 2030 introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, an ambitious and sweeping reform programme to wean the country off oil, modernise the economy, attract foreign investment and bring social progress.

About 60 per cent of the 50 billion-riyal initiative costs will come from the public sector and 40 per cent from the private sector," Ahmed Al-Khateeb, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, said in Riyadh.

The programme aims to prepare a cadre of Saudi athletes to represent the country in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and will open 491 locations for sporting activities.

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To promote the arts and support up-and-coming Saudi artists, the initiative will open an island for the arts and culture in Jeddah, 45 cinemas, 16 theatres, 42 libraries and the Royal Arts Complex in Riyadh by 2020.

To keep Saudis entertained, the initiative calls for the opening of a water park, three theme parks and 16 family entertainment centres by 2020.

Retired French footballer Thierry Henry, American actress Katie Holmes and British actor Idris Elba attended an event in Riyadh on Thursday to promote the initiative to an international audience. The Council of Economic and Development Affairs will oversee the implementation of the programme.

Last month, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and Six Flags, the theme park company, announced they will develop and design a branded theme park in Qiddiya, the kingdom’s first entertainment hub.

In April, Saudis went to the first cinema screening in the kingdom after a three-decade ban was lifted and operating licences were awarded to US-based AMC and Dubai’s Majid Al Futtaim to open theatres.

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