Leading World Cup skiers on Thursday questioned the decision to award a yet-to-be-built resort in Saudi Arabia the hosting rights of the 2029 Asian Winter Games, saying such a project could damage the sport's image.
Sofia Goggia, the 2018 Olympic downhill champion, said she was "pretty much speechless" when she heard the announcement this week.
"Because we are going down a sustainable way and they are building this cathedral in the desert. This is something unreal and surreal," the Italian skier told The Associated Press.
Two-time Olympic medalist Aleksander Aamodt Kilde said the decision flies in the face of efforts to combat climate change.
"We need to look at the consequences: Why? What do we gain from it, where is this going, and how is it possible?" the Norwegian skier said. "We see that the world is on fire, it's really hot summers, it's going to go bad in the end if you don't do anything. For producing snow, you need water, and water is also a problem out there."
Saudi Arabia will host the Asian Winter Games in mountains near the $500 billion futuristic city project Neom. The Olympic Council of Asia picked the Saudi candidacy that centers on Trojena, which is planning to be a year-round ski resort by 2026.
The Neom megaproject is being funded by the Saudi sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund.
"I cannot find the right and common sense in building up something where the snow doesn't come," Goggia said. "The world cannot afford a loss of energy as the one would be involved to build this structure."
Defending four-time overall World Cup champion Mikaela Shiffrin said she was unfamiliar with the specific construction plans in Saudi Arabia but added that, in general, "It makes sense to compete in places that have some level of infrastructure and some natural resources toward the sports that we are trying to do."
Kilde, who was the 2020 overall World Cup champion, called on the International Ski and Snowboard Federation to rethink "how we want to communicate our sport."
"Of course, we need to travel, because we need to find snow. But it's not just to fly around the world and to go to different places just to gain interest. We also need to gain interest in a natural and good environmental way," Kilde said.
Earlier Thursday, the French ski federation, mayors from mountain resorts and ski instructors said in a joint statement that the decision goes against "what is desirable for the planet."
They said they have been "left flabbergasted" by the plan to host the competition "in a place naturally poor in precipitation and water, where there are no ski resorts or slopes to date."
"We can only denounce this aberrant project, which is totally opposite to what is desirable for the planet," the French collective said, insisting on the need for all to respect the 2015 Paris accord's target for limiting global warming and to manage resources and biodiversity in a sustainable way.
"It is only on this condition that future generations will be able to live happily on our planet and learn to ski," they said.
The 2029 edition will be the ninth Asian Winter Games, which have been held in an irregular rhythm since 1986 and are open only to members of the Olympic Council of Asia.
Saudi Arabia also will host the 2034 Asian Games in Riyadh as part of aggressive moves to build a sports hosting portfolio and help diversify the economy from reliance on oil. A campaign to host the 2030 World Cup in soccer is expected with an unprecedented three-continent bid including Egypt and Greece.