Messi, sports wax, and the possibility of…

The Guardian newspaper has published an article by journalist Alex Lawson in which he says that if Lionel Messi lifts the World Cup, it will not only represent a victory for the diminutive Argentine captain, but also for his new benefactor: Saudi Arabia .

The team may have inflicted a shock humiliation on Argentina in their opening game of the tournament, but Messi, who has been appointed ambassador to Saudi Arabia on a £25m contract, could offer a long-term prize of far greater value – the chance to to Qatar to host the 2030 World Cup.

After the small, gas-rich emirate won the right to host the World Cup in December 2010 in circumstances steeped in controversy, Qatar wrote the playbook on using the soft power of the world’s biggest sporting event to to promote goals – of the big-spending Western brands that come With heroism, trying to improve its image in the field of human rights.

For Saudi Arabia, winning the cup championship in 2030 could lead to the rehabilitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the world stage. He was initially seen as a reformer who could lead the kingdom on the road to modernity, until the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi turned it into a pariah state. The state’s role in the bombing in Yemen, restrictions on women’s rights and the use of the death penalty have also damaged its international reputation. Recently, Saudi Arabia’s decision to defy US pressure on oil production has strained already difficult relations.

Mohammed bin Salman wants the tournament to help convince the world – and his youth – that he has a plan to wean the second-largest oil-producing country off its reliance on petrodollars, through his Vision 2030 modernization plan. If Saudi Arabia were to repeat Qatar’s performance, it would shed a brighter light on its international relations – and its extended relations with Britain.

Saudi Arabia’s plan to “sportwash” its image has led it to switch sports from boxing to golf. Dividing the world of golf by launch – the Live Golf Tour is funded by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, and launched in 2019. Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight boxing match with Oleksandr Usyk in August at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah where the match was attended by Mohammed Bin Salman with FIFA President Gianni Infantino. In 2019, Joshua came under fire from human rights activists when he said Saudi Arabia was “trying to do a good job on the political front.” His last game in Saudi Arabia was one of several meetings between Mohammed bin Salman and Infantino, including the opening ceremony of the World Cup, where they were photographed laughing together.

Aramco, the oil giant mainly owned by the Saudi royal family and the engine of the country’s economy, is raising its profile in sports by sponsoring this year’s 2020 FIFA World Cup. The $2 trillion oil company’s global power is underscored by stock exchanges around the world struggling to list it – even then-prime minister Theresa May traveled to Riyadh in 2017 for a failed bid. [كي تدرج اسهم الشركة في بورصة لندن].

How Qatar won FIFA’s votes to host the tournament in 2010 has been the source of analysis for a decade and any successful Saudi bid will come under similar scrutiny. In August, it was reported that officials were in talks with Greece and Egypt about a joint bid to host the 2030 tournament, a year after they hosted the Asian Winter Games. Saudi Arabia is reportedly ready to offer $40 billion to fund the bid, which is likely to see games played again in the winter given the sweltering summer temperatures.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khatib said last month the state was studying the idea, before later announcing he had not submitted an “official request” to host the tournament. At least the country’s tourism board was aware of the 2022 tournament’s potential – with fantastic promotional packages, day trips and multiple-entry visas to Qatar. Less than a year after signing for Qatari club Paris Saint-Germain in August 2021, Messi was unveiled as an ambassador for tourism to stay in Saudi Arabia during the competition on his Instagram account and in TV ads to promote.

There are even signs that soccer has led to a warming of previously frosty relations between Qatar and its neighbors, exemplified by the three-year boycott by four Middle Eastern states led by Saudi Arabia that ended early last year.

Winning bids to host the World Cup are usually accompanied by large and often controversial infrastructure spending, from road and airport development in South Africa to protests in Brazil. Qatar was the most expensive, reportedly at $229 billion, including building seven stadiums from scratch. More than 6,500 migrant workers have lost their lives in Qatar since the championship was awarded. Saudi Arabia has more stadiums than Qatar, although only two have a capacity of more than 60,000 and most have a capacity of around 20,000.

Within eight years, the World Cup will complete “Vision 2030” – Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to build a “vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation”. The aim is to diversify its economy as the world gets rid of oil, and includes Neum, the northeastern region that will host a science fiction city that will cut through the desert near the Red Sea on a line 170 km long and just 200 km long. meters wide, and will be surrounded on both sides by walls 500 meters high, reflecting from the outside. .

The decarbonisation strategy also includes building the largest carbon capture and storage center in the world, with the aim of sequestering carbon and allowing oil production to continue. Run by Aramco, in the kingdom’s eastern Jubail region, it has been called a “false solution” by environmental activists.

British defense giant BAE Systems has a small force of around 6,700 workers in Saudi Arabia, which is by far the largest single destination for sales outside its core markets of the US and the UK.

The arms sales span more than half a century, from a contract to supply the Lightning and Strikemaster jets in the 1960s to the 1985 Yamama arms-for-oil deal marred by allegations of corruption. Saudi Arabia became a key ally of Britain and the United States in the “war on terror” after 9/11, and Tony Blair cited national security in 2007 after opening a corruption investigation into the al-Yamamah deal. have given up.

Despite Khashoggi’s murder and his criticism of supplying the Saudi military during its deadly bombing campaign in Yemen, in which Lancashire-made Eurofighter Typhoons took part in a campaign that killed thousands of civilians, BAE remains deeply entrenched. It sold £2.5 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia last year, 12% of the company’s global sales.

Saudi exports to the UK rose 18% to £10.4bn in the year to the end of June, while UK exports, including financial services, saw a post-pandemic recovery, up 57% to £3.3bn.

Britain is also said to be close to selling between 48 and 72 Typhoon jets to the Saudis, four years after they signed a Memorandum of Intent between the countries – action that will support the Lancashire factories for many years to come. The Saudi Typhoon engines are manufactured by Rolls-Royce, and work is concentrated in its Bristol plant.

Saudi Arabia and Britain separately signed a “memorandum of cooperation” on energy in October. British multinationals, including pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and petrochemical group Ineos, have moved to boost their business in the country.

As much as Qatar has worked to cultivate closer ties with Britain over the past decade, so has Saudi Arabia. The Observer revealed that Qatar spent more money on gifts and travel to British MPs than any other country last year – £251,208 in the 12 months to October 2022, including luxury hotel stays, business class flights and horse racing tickets.

Last year, a group of MPs came under fire for attending the Qatar-sponsored Goodwood Racecourse, hosted by the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club and the British Embassy at the event in West Sussex.

Among them was Mark Menzies, who heads the parliamentary group of parties concerned with Saudi Arabia. Menzies, the Conservative MP for Flide, in Lancashire which is home to BAE’s Wharton Typhoon plant, received almost £20,000 in generosity from the Saudi state on his trips to Riyadh and Jeddah between 2014 and 2017. During the visits he met king Salman bin. Abdul Dear, Governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency.

Meanwhile, the Tories’ ties to Saudi Arabia were numerous: from ex-leader David Cameron and disgraced financier Lex Greensill’s desert camping trip to campaign for Mohammed bin Salman in 2020, to former chancellor Lord (Philip) Hammond, whose private consultancy almost provided. a million pounds £100,000 in earnings while working for controversial clients including the Saudi government. Saudi Arabia has been mentioned 175 times in the House of Commons so far in 2022, up from 135 times in 2021 and 75 times in 2012.

On the London Stock Exchange, the Public Investment Fund showed growing interest in FTSE shares, backing the latest £575m share issue by luxury carmaker Aston Martin. The strategy mimics the Qatari model, through which state-owned investment funds have built a massive property empire in the UK. He was reportedly considering buying a 25% stake in Heathrow – along with existing shareholder Qatar.

But probably the PIF’s best-known investment in the UK was the takeover of Newcastle United, and its plan to build a rival to United Arab Emirates-owned Manchester City.

“The mistakes in awarding the most watched soccer event in soccer to Qatar must not be repeated,” said Minky Worden, director of Human Rights Watch. “Women, journalists, members of the LGBTQ community and all fans of the game must ask how it can be held in a country where their rights are not respected. It shouldn’t be.” Players are expected to compete where human rights are absolutely at stake.”

She added, “If Saudi Arabia ends up co-hosting the World Cup, it will harm FIFA’s human rights policy and reward escalating Saudi repression. This idea deserves a red card.”

Leave a Comment