PARIS (Reuters) -Saudi Arabia's Riyadh won the right to host the Expo 2030 world fair, vote results showed on Tuesday, in another diplomatic victory for a Gulf country after the Qatar soccer World Cup last year.
South Korea's Busan and Italy's Rome were also in the running to host the world fair, a five-yearly event that attracts millions of visitors and billions of dollars in investment.
Riyadh won 119 votes, Busan 29 and Rome 17, results from 182 members of the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) showed. Saudi Arabia needed to garner two thirds of the votes to win from the first round.
The Italian contestants were scathing in their disappointment.
"This huge result for Saudi was unexpected in those proportions," Giampiero Massolo, head of the Italian Expo bid, told reporters. "It is no longer about the merits, but about transactions."
"Yesterday it was a soccer championship, tomorrow it will be the Olympics," he added.
Riyadh had enlisted soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, who plays for the Al-Nassr Saudi club, to convince members in a video projected before the vote. The Saudi capital has proposed to host the event between October 2030 and March 2031.
The win is the icing on the cake for de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious Vision 2030 program, which aims to wean the country off its oil dependency.
"We had a fantastic team of ministers going around the world, engaging our counterparts in a very, very active way to understand what they expected, what they were looking for and what we should deliver in order to gain their trust," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said.
Critics say Prince Mohammed wants to use the event to improve his country's image after the 2018 murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which Western leaders believe was ordered by the crown prince.
The three delegations had been in horse-trading overdrive over the past few months, staging splashy lobbying events in the French capital.
Saudi had in particular won French support, irking Rome. Advisers to President Emmanuel Macron said French backing was in return for Saudi help on other issues at the heart of French diplomatic priorities.
A European official said it had to do with Lebanon, without elaborating.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Writing by Michel Rose, Editing by Christina Fincher and Richard Chang)