NEOM sports director says megacity will have ‘most active’ population on the planet

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Saudi Arabia’s sustainable megacity NEOM will be the “most active place on the planet,” said NEOM’s sports director Neal Coupland.

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NEOM aims to have 75 percent of the city’s residents exercising for at least three hours per week, making use of easily-accessible facilities in an urban environment that will be designed from the ground-up to encourage healthy living.

Situated on the Red Sea coast, NEOM will also have a stadium that is the “most flexible, most iconic venue on the planet,” as well as adventure sports attractions such as deep sea diving and hiking, Coupland explained.

Billed as a city with “zero carbon emissions” by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, car travel is set to be eschewed in favor of walking and cycling.

One strategy to win the hearts and minds of car-loving Saudis is a partnership between NEOM and the Mercedes-EQ Formula E team, involving a graduate program in which young people will be taken to England for specialist training in electric vehicle driving, engineering, and marketing.

Coupland told Al Arabiya English that the program will “encourage young Saudis to get involved in the electric motor racing industry, and that might mean they become a journalist, commentator, event manager, or team manager. There are an awful lot of roles that go around with that industry.”

The Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02 driving along NEOM’s Magna Road. (Supplied)
The Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02 driving along NEOM’s Magna Road. (Supplied)

Key to the city’s success, Coupland said, is the balance between developing the landscape into a commercially-viable destination while retaining the natural beauty of the environment.

A team of more than 30 environmental experts is ensuring that the sporting developments stay in line with the city’s green and sustainable ethos. Coupland said that one project, for example, was built and then later torn down as it was deemed not to meet the standards of blending in with the natural environment.

“It is a difficult thing to get right,” he said, “Because there’s always going to be commercial pressure for numbers to increase and therefore you need infrastructure to accommodate them.”

One strategy to mitigate the environmental impact of deep-sea diving is to limit visitor numbers and instead offer virtual dives by using augmented reality goggles.

“Young people can get a real feel and understanding of what life’s like under the ocean without us having to throw thousands of people down there and try to take some money off them, and then pick up the pieces 20 years later,” said Coupland.

“We’re learning, I hope, from things that have happened previously around the world and setting off with a completely different mindset.”

NEOM is one of three megaprojects unveiled as part of the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030 strategy, the Kingdom’s ambitious plan to diversify its economy away from fossil fuels and prepare for a post-hydrocarbon age. Other plans in the works include a tourism hub on the Red Sea, and Qiddiyah, an entertainment hub near Riyadh.

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