GAISF vice-president Stephan Fox, second from right, said he was impressed by the development of sport in Saudi Arabia ©SportAccord

Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) vice-president Stephan Fox believes Saudi Arabia can become a "powerhouse" in sport after being impressed by the development of the nation in preparation for next year's World Combat Games.

High-ranking officials from all 15 worldwide sporting governing bodies gathered at the Olympic Museum in the Olympic Capital for an update on preparations for the event.

The meeting included a video message from Saudi Arabia's Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, also President of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Saudi Arabia's growing involvement and investment in sport has been scrutinised with the nation accused of sportswashing due to its record on human rights, which includes severely restricting press and women's freedoms and leading a coalition which has carried out deadly airstrikes across Yemen since 2015..

But Fox dismissed those accusations and believes Saudi Arabia is reaping the rewards for efforts to develop sport in the country.

"I see the progress they have done over the past three or four years in building federations and really getting females involved in decision-making process," Fox told insidethegames.

"I think they are going the right way.

"If you look at football, they’ve just beaten Argentina [at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar] which is a big success for the country.

"People say that Saudis are doing sportswashing but in reality you can see that sport is improving and I think the World Cup was just a wake-up call for all the countries in the region that they are actually developing sport there."

Representatives from all 15 International Federations involved in next year's World Combat Games participated in a meeting at the Olympic Museum ©SportAccord
Representatives from all 15 International Federations involved in next year's World Combat Games participated in a meeting at the Olympic Museum ©SportAccord

Fox claimed he was impressed with the staging of the first-ever Saudi Games, which saw 6,000 athletes compete across 45 sports from October 27 to November 5.

Fox has also worked with the country in his capacity as United Through Sports President.

"Obviously, we have just had the Saudi Games so it's now full steam ahead to the World Combat Games," he said.

"I think we are well on track and when the curtain opens next October, Saudi Arabia will show the world a totally different sports event.

"I went to four or five sports [at the Saudi Games] and can see the standard of the athletes improving and are more skilled than before.

"I think this class will develop and when it comes to the Asian Games [at Riyadh 2034] I think Saudi is going to be a powerhouse in sports."

Fox said technical delegates from all 15 sports had been invited to visit Saudi Arabia in the last week of January.

"They want to welcome the world and it's really important that Saudi shows to the sports and gain their trust and I think they really have done that over the past year or two," added Fox.

"In January, we are all going to go there together to spend a couple of days to sign the venue and programme and for them to see and go back to their sports and say listen Saudi is a great place to visit."

Sports officials will see
Sports officials will see "Saudi is a great place to visit", according to Stephan Fox ©Getty Images

Aikido, armwrestling, boxing, judo, ju-jitsu, karate, kendo, kickboxing, muaythai, sambo, savate, sumo, taekwondo, wrestling and wushu have been named on the programme for Riyadh 2023.

Competition is due to run from October 21 to 30 next year with all events taking place at the King Saud University in Riyadh.

"I have been to so many events and it’s always difficult if you have to go to three or four different venues when there is a 20-minute drive," added Fox.

"Here you can see that judo is a one-minute walk from another sport.

"Also, the way we are going to design the programme is that the sport which may not be as popular in Saudi Arabia we put them in the traffic.

"So, for example, when judo, karate or wrestling stops, we put the smaller sports on so the audience will go and find out about kendo or aikido to look at this and promote that sport."

GAISF, which organises the World Combat Games, is being wound up after members voted in favour of dissolution yesterday.

SportAccord is expected to take on responsibility for organising the World Combat Games.