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Saudi Arabia's New Luxury Stadium Unveiled in Bizarre Ceremony

On Thursday, a boy flew through the air carrying a soccer ball-shaped glowing orb, and handed it to the king.
King Abdullah Sports City

Saudi Arabia unveiled its newest luxury sport stadium on Thursday with fanfare that rivaled the Olympics. The opening ceremony consisted of an impressive light show, dance performances, a marching band, and even concluding in a speech from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah himself.

Courtesy of King Abdullah Sports City

Located outside of Jeddah and nicknamed the “jewel,” the 60,000-seat King Abdullah Sports City cost a reported $507 million and took 14 months to build. In addition to the main soccer stadium, the complex includes a 2,000-seat multi-sports hall, an outdoor 1,000-seat athletic stadium, additional indoor training fields, and parking for 45,000 vehicles. The complex also includes a mosque, luxury suites for the royal family, Wi-Fi, and is air conditioning throughout the various facilities.


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The debut ceremony for the stadium centered on Saudi Arabia’s version of the World Cup final — the 2014 Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Football Cup — and was attended by the royal family, along with tens of thousands of Saudi spectators.

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The King Abdullah Sports City is the second largest soccer stadium in Saudi Arabia.

During the bizarre ceremony, a boy flew through the air — suspended by a harness — carrying a soccer ball-shaped glowing orb, and handed it to the king. Then, in a rare public appearance for the notoriously private monarch, the king then delivered a welcome speech. You can watch the whole thing here.

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A Saudi man was locked up for 10 years for “engaging in following, saving, and resending inciting tweets on the social networking site." Read more here.

Sports are taken very seriously in Saudi Arabia. The king authorized the construction of the stadium in 2009 in a royal decree: “In recognition of the importance of sports, its benefits and role in the progress of humanity, and out of keenness on the welfare of Saudi youth, we have decided to establish the King Abdullah Sports City.”

But as with everything in Saudi Arabia, this pretty much only applies to men. Girls are banned from participating in sports in schools, although Saudi authorities are currently considering a review of the ban. And like almost every other public space in Saudi Arabia, the new sports stadium will be gender segregated, with separate stadium sections for women. Women have only been allowed to attend sporting events since 2013.

The construction of the stadium was also seen as an attempt by the conservative Saudi regime to open up the notoriously cloistered country slightly more to the world. The stadium was commissioned by Saudi ARAMCO, one of the biggest and most valuable companies in the world, and it commissioned the stadium to be located outside of the internationalist city of Jeddah. It was also built in compliance with international FIFA standards, leading many to speculate that the complex was built to attract global events, and maybe even host future worldwide tournaments such as the World Cup.

And in case Saudis wanted to lodge their complaints or opinions about the stadium — or anything else, really — they can now use an internet hotline to directly message the king. The website Tawasal (Arabic for “communication”) launched on Wednesday, which theoretically allows Saudi citizens to contact the king directly about pretty much whatever they want. It’s still not clear if he’ll respond.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928