The Saudi capital Riyadh was chosen on Tuesday to host the prestigious 2030 World Expo, beating South Korea's Busan and Italy's Rome in the first round of voting, despite criticism over human rights.
Riyadh won 119 votes, compared to 29 for Busan and 17 for Rome, well within two-thirds of the required 165 votes, according to the results of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE). When the results were announced, shouts of joy rang out from the large Saudi delegation.
"We are immensely proud of this result," said Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. "It is an expression of the international community's confidence in what we have to offer, and we are committed to meeting expectations," he said.
He also welcomed the fact that the organisation of the exhibition coincides with Vision 2030, a reform programme aimed at reducing the kingdom's dependence on oil.
"Saudi Arabia has won Expo 2030 decisively," said Dimitri Kerkentzes, Secretary General of the BIE, congratulating Riyadh on its "incredible victory". "This exhibition will be the catalyst for the transformation" of the kingdom, he said at a press conference following the vote.
The three candidate cities all boasted of carrying out green projects, with high technological value, to win the organisation of the Expo, an event that attracts millions of visitors, and had embarked on intense lobbying campaigns in recent months.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni were present at the presentation of the dossiers in Paris in June.
Ambassador Giampiero Massolo, president of the Rome-2030 Promoters' Committee, reacted sharply to Riyadh's designation, criticising the "mercantile and transactional approach" that he said had governed the election. "It's no longer a content battle or a competition between projects," he said.
The Saudi bid touts "world-class natural landscapes" and "the first carbon-negative exposure" in a country that is among the world's largest oil producers and one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita. It has, however, drawn a lot of criticism.
Fifteen human rights NGOs called on the BIE last Tuesday "not to vote" for Riyadh because of its "appalling" human rights record. For sociologist Patrick le Galès, director of research at the CNRS, the French centre for scientific research, this is "greenwashing on a large scale" and this kind of event serves above all to "enhance the value of the elites in place".
"Showing yourself to the world"
South Korea's bid promoted a "harmony of nature, humanity, technology" built on a former industrial port in Busan, while Italy intended to "bring history and the future closer together" in Rome, where the "world's largest urban solar park" would be built for the occasion.
World Expos are held every five years and last a maximum of six months. They allow the chosen country to "show itself to the world", while being "a laboratory for architects", according to Dimitri Kerkentzes.
For example, the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris for the 1889 World's Fair, as were the Atomium and the Space Needle, symbolic structures of Brussels and Seattle (United States), were built for those of 1958 and 1962. The most recent one, in Dubai, recorded 24 million visitors. The 2025 edition will take place in Osaka, Japan.