Golf will not change Riyadh in Dubai .. “improve reputation”

The New York Times published an article by journalists Vivien Yee and Ben Hubbard in which they said; That was when Saudi Arabia invested $ 3.5 billion in Uber in 2016, and few people outside the business world took notice.

When he acquired a $ 500 million stake in Live Nation, the world’s largest concert producer, concertgoers did not cut corners.

But when it bought a respected English football team, Newcastle United, thousands of fans gathered outside the club’s stadium in north-east England last year to cheer on Saudi Arabia, some with Saudi-style headdresses. It was an incredible welcome to a remote desert kingdom in the Middle East, better known for oil as sports or entertainment, and often the target of international condemnation for its human rights record.

It’s no wonder then that Saudi Arabia saw an opportunity this year to fund a new PGA Tour Challenge golf tournament, an investment that has rocked the world of professional golf and caused the departure of its biggest stars .

The kingdom sees sport as a winning formula to polish its image, as part of a campaign led by its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to transform the country from a quiet and conservative oil producer to a dynamic one. focal point for tourism, investment, future technology, and more.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a researcher on Gulf Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, commented on the Newcastle crowd’s response: “What other circumstances would you have to welcome Saudi investment? [هذا الخيار]”.

The Saudi funding of the young LIV golf round is the latest example of the Gulf monarchies that have poured large oil wealth into sports and culture over the past decade or more, hoping to raise their countries’ international profile and how they the West is considered to change.

Bahrain hosted the Formula 1 races. The UAE has opened two branches of the Louvre Museum and New York University in Abu Dhabi, its capital. Elite football was a particularly popular investment; The Emirati royal family bought Manchester City, another English club, while Qatar acquired Paris Saint-Germain in France. Later this year, Qatar, a small monarchy that had no reputation in sports before pouring billions of dollars into its football program, will be the first Arab country to host the Soccer World Cup.

But in some ways, it’s the Saudis who have the longest way to go, and it’s them who have made amazing changes over the past few years.

Prince Mohammed led a massive reform aimed at weaning the kingdom’s economy from oil, creating jobs in the private sector for Saudi youth, which make up more than half of the population, and opening up society make. He developed the tourism industry and mobilized investments, promoted concerts and movies for long-starved Saudi youth for such entertainment, and removed restrictions that kept women in black abayas from head to toe, banning them from driving and banning them from entering the to mix publicly with men. …

Since 2015, when the prince began his rise to lead the kingdom, Saudi Arabia has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on glamorous concerts, heritage sites, dazzling art galleries, a film festival and other cultural performances. The kingdom has also invested more than $ 1.9 billion in sports over the past five years, according to a report released by the British-based Grant Liberty Human Rights Group.

In addition to the acquisition of Newcastle and the advent of LIV Golf Invitational, a Saudi-funded golf tour, Saudi Arabia has also insisted on hosting high-profile boxing matches ($ 100 million), Formula 1 races ($ 65 million per race, according to reports) offer. , and the snooker championship ($ 33 ​​million) and a series of international wrestling events for entertainment ($ 500 million). I contacted the WTA about hosting a tournament, and they even invest in e-sports.

While it is still not clear how much profit these investments will bring, it does offer a number of other benefits.
It has, for example, put Saudi Arabia in the news in ways unrelated to its weak human rights record, its stalled military intervention in Yemen, the assassination of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in 2018, or the imprisonment of dissidents, activists and others. Saudis criticizing the government.

For Grant Liberty and other critics, this is exactly the point of the sports spending expedition.

Also read: Families of 9/11 victims lobbied to disrupt Saudi-funded golf tournament

If world-famous athletes and sporting events are associated with the country, says Lucy Ray, who worked on the Grant Liberty report accusing the kingdom of using the money to “wash” his reputation, if world-famous athletes and sporting events are associated . with the country, “which would create a story that ‘Well, if they accept it, they accept the country. An improvement in the perception of Saudi Arabia, which is what they want.’

The danger, she added, is that “these sports stars support a brutal and oppressive regime that silences any form of disagreement simply because there is a different opinion than the regime itself.”

Saudi officials declined to comment on the article through a government spokesman.

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