— Published 31 October 2023

“The Saudi model will surely be copied”

The third edition of the World Combat Games came to a close in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (October 20-30). The multi-sport event, the first organized at international level by the Saudi kingdom, came to a close on Monday October 30 with a closing ceremony at the King Saud University Arena. Among the guests were Italian Ivo Ferriani, President of SportAccord, and Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdulaziz, Vice-President of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee (photo above).

Stephan Fox, SportAccord’s vice-president in charge of the World Combat Games, spoke to FrancsJeux about the results and outlook.

FrancsJeux: What is your assessment of this third edition, organized ten years after the previous one?

Stephan Fox: The event was incredible. In every respect. A great atmosphere among the athletes, marked by a great deal of respect. A single venue for all the competitions, ideal for spectators who were able to switch easily from one sport to another. And last but not least, top-notch organization and production.

What can this event bring to Saudi Arabia and its ambition to become a hub of the international sports movement?

I was in Saudi Arabia when the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 was announced. The World Combat Games have just demonstrated that this is not just a formula. It’s already a reality. In boxing, Saudi women won three gold medals. A few years ago, such a result would have been unthinkable. Sport plays a major role in the evolution of the country and society, particularly in terms of inclusion and equality. What the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee has achieved over the past three years has probably never been done anywhere else in the world. It has grown from 32 national member federations to 90 today. They all have female participation. With these World Combat Games, Saudi Arabia has opened up to the world, and at the same time the world has come to Saudi Arabia.

These World Games were open to para-athletes in six of the 16 sports on the program. Is this a new direction for the sporting movement?

This was a first for an international multi-sport event. The vision of these World Games was to promote inclusion, in the broadest sense of the term. Logistically, it wasn’t easy. But we did it, and proved that inclusion is possible in a major sporting event. The opening ceremony was the same for everyone, and the medal table included Paralympic disciplines. I’m pretty sure that, in the future, the Saudi model of inclusion will be copied by other major event organizations.

Was the format presented this year in Riyadh the right one?

It can always be improved. But the number of sports will remain the same for the next edition. We’ll stick with sixteen. But we may reduce the number of disciplines, and therefore athletes, by concentrating on disciplines where the event can attract the world’s best. In wrestling, for example, not all disciplines are Olympic. For wrestlers not involved in the Olympic event, the World Combat Games represent the pinnacle, the very best. In the current format, participation amounts to 1,800 athletes. It may be necessary to reduce this number, not least to lower the organization costs.

What’s next? The next edition?

The idea is to have a World Combat Games every two years. But perhaps with different versions. A smaller edition in 2025, for example, then a larger one two years later, in the pre-Olympic year. In Riyadh this year, we took advantage of the event to test in the Olympic disciplines the technology that will be used next year at the Paris 2024 Games. Swiss Timing teams were on hand to carry out tests. Keeping a large edition the year before the Olympics therefore makes complete sense.

Do you already have candidates for subsequent editions?

We have six candidates. The event is proving to be very popular, especially in martial arts-oriented countries. Brazil, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Southeast Asia with Thailand, Japan as part of the legacy of the Tokyo 2020 Games… We’re talking to a large number of interested countries.

When will you announce the host country for the next edition?

Next year, probably in April. And the event will take place in the second half of 2025, so as not to compete with the continental championships. The host country will then have 16 to 18 months to prepare. That’s plenty of time.