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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Saudi Arabia to offer visit visas for sport and culture events 

Digital system Sharek will allow people to visit Saudi Arabia for concerts and sporting events

Drivers compete during the 2018 Mexico City E-Prix at the Hermanos Rodriguez racetrack in Mexico City, Mexico. EPA
Drivers compete during the 2018 Mexico City E-Prix at the Hermanos Rodriguez racetrack in Mexico City, Mexico. EPA

Saudi Arabia has for the first time launched an online visa that will allow people to visit the country for sporting events and concerts.

A new platform for processing digital visas, known as Sharek, was also launched at the announcement of the inaugural Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix, which will be the opening race of the 2018-2019 Formula E Championship.

The visa will only be available to people who have purchased tickets via the Sharek site.

The Ad Diriyah E-Prix, which will take place on the outskirts of Riyadh on December 15, marks the first time foreign travellers from most countries have been able to apply for leisure travel visas to the country.

The country does grant tourist visas for a limited number of countries, but they are subject to a lengthy application process and tight restrictions.

The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage announced in December last year that Saudi Arabia would begin issuing tourist visas in the first quarter of 2018. And in April, it said that it had finalised regulations and submitted them to the government for approval.

However, there have been no announcements on the status of tourist visas or when they are likely to be available since.

The Sharek platform has been launched as part of the country’s Vision2030 plan. Organisers hope that a large number of international motor racing fans will travel to the country to see the sport — which features only electric cars — debut in the Middle East.

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Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, vice-chair of the Saudi Arabia General Sports Authority, described the announcement as a game-changing moment for the country.

“It is very fitting that the such a futuristic and sustainable sport as Formula E is pointing to the future direction of our country,” he said.

“With the introduction of Sharek we can share the event [with others]. We hope the Saudi Ad Diriyah E-Prix will see fans from around the globe come to Saudi Arabia to watch this epic sporting spectacle — now your ticket is your visa.”

The next event that will allow visitors to access Sharek to obtain a visa will be next year’s European Tour Golf.