Soft Power.. Reasons for Saudi Investments in “Unparalleled” Amounts in Sports Tournaments

Today, Saudi Arabia is a global center for the most important major sporting events of all kinds, as it has become a destination for major championships such as the Dakar Rally, Formula 1, the biggest boxing matches, football championships, and finally its important announcement. of hosting the Asian Winter Games in Trogina in the Neom region.

However, a researcher told the British newspaper, The Times, that Riyadh’s interest in sponsoring or hosting sports tournaments and activities is due to a desire to keep up with the region’s openness to the world, rather than a desire to divert attention from human rights and violations occurring in this area, according to many human rights organizations.

To achieve this, Saudi Arabia, under its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, does not mind exploiting the Saudi Investment Fund, which contains staggering material wealth estimated at more than $500 billion.

The wealthy kingdom’s sponsorship of the LIV’s international tour of the golf tournament cost more than $2 billion with no clear plan on how to recoup this huge investment.

Four years ago when Saudi Arabia hosted the first international boxing match between George Groves and Callum Smith, it was clear that there was a lot of interest in the country’s desire to be a springboard for the biggest events in the world.

Since 2018, sports investment in Saudi Arabia has been unmatched by any other country, with boxing matches, last year’s Formula 1 race and golf tournaments, and international football matches including the Italian and Spanish Super Cups.

“Progress and Revolution”

And the Saudi Public Investment Fund strengthened its career last year by acquiring Newcastle United, then revolutionized the world of golf by sponsoring the new championship “LIV” LIV.

For James Dorsey, a researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, Saudi Arabia’s surprising interest is not so much in sports washing as in the concept of “soft power. ” He pointed out that the turning point was when Prince Mohammed bin Salman assumed the position of Crown Prince in June 2017.

Dorsey believes that bin Salman has seen what neighboring Qatar has achieved by hosting the World Athletics Championships in 2019, and the proximity of hosting the men’s World Cup in November of the year, not to mention the appearance of not the star of Paris. Saint-Germain, which owns its assets in Doha, and therefore encouraged him to act in the same way.

The first sign of Riyadh’s interest in the world of international sports came in early 2018, when FIFA president Gianni Infantino sought to push ahead with proposals for a 24-team Club World Cup, which SoftBank has funded for $25 billion over 12 years. was funded. Japan, of which the Saudi Public Investment Fund is the main backer.

These proposals came in the wake of meetings between Infantino and bin Salman, but the plan was stalled after it was blocked by the European Football Association (UEFA).

However, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remained the focus of Infantino’s interests, supporting his proposal to organize the World Cup every two years instead of once every four years, but that idea also failed, as happened with its predecessor related to the Club World Cup.

Dorsey says, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the pioneers in sponsoring and financing sporting events in recent times,” attributing this to the desire of the Saudi Crown Prince to enhance his country’s international standing through the ” soft power” of sport.

Dorsey points out that the Saudis want to be seen at all costs as the central hub of the Middle East and especially the Gulf region, and they want to be an international center for sports, and therefore sports washing is a secondary aspect compared to talking about the effort to improve the Kingdom’s reputation in the field of human rights. .

However, Dorsey claims, “the recent mass executions, human rights abuses and the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018 means the Saudis face a difficult reputational problem.”

On the other hand, advisers to the Saudi Ministry of Sports insist that their country’s strategy is not related to soft power or sports washing, but rather to see sports as a way to open up this conservative society to the outside world to embrace, develop tourism and encourage social activities among the local population.

Another focus of the strategy, advisers say, is to use the Public Investment Fund to invest in opportunities that could yield long-term gains, such as the acquisition of Newcastle Club and the establishment of the LIV International Golf Championship.

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