Saudi Arabia: when sport is financed with an infinite wallet

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The recent signing of the Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo -already at the end of his career- for the As-Nassr of the local league with a 200 million dollar contract (off the scale), the duel against PSG by Leo Messi and Kilian Mbappé and the creation of the Super Cups of Spain and Italy were unique some of Saudi Arabia’s moves to position itself as a football powerhouse. Not so much in terms of technical results – which escape the logic of the economy – but in relation to its weight in the international sports organization, with an objective that also includes the candidacy for the 2036 Olympics.

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if your neighbor Qatar still enjoys the echoes of the World Cup and the Emirates also have a significant presence in sports properties and event organizationthe Saudi monarchy already deploys the power of its portfolio within the most visible industries today.

The driving force behind these movements is its Public Investment Fund (FIP), created more than half a century ago and which, according to The New York Times, He has assets of $620 billion. This allows him to participate in companies ranging from Facebook, Uber or Boing to Disney, Citigroup and concert organizer Live Nation. But in the specifically sports field They launched a plan called “Vision 2030” and included their latest football moves, including the purchase of one of the British first division teams (now the most powerful league in the world), Newcastle. “Vision 2030” was disseminated through a 236-page document, which announced the organization of 45 top-level events, the construction of five thousand sports facilities and an advance of its athletes for the next Olympic Games in Paris.

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As do regimes of different types, the Saudi network does not escape the consideration that sport can wash the country’s imagefaced with questions about censorship, religious inflexibility, discrimination against women and minorities and crime by journalist Jamal Khashoggi -critic of the regime- in Istanbul five years ago.

The Saudi soccer league is now the strongest among the Asian leagues and if As-Nassr has given the bell with Ronaldo’s signature, other teams are also solid such as the champion AL-Hilal, As-Sabab (where the Argentine Ever Banega shines) and Al-Ittihad, the most popular in the country. And so, coincidentally, they formed a team with a respectable performance, which returned from the last World Cup with a significant shift: the only one that can beat Argentina, champions (it did it in a surprising debut). Saudi Arabia also managed to host the Spanish Super Cup – the recent one was won by Barcelona over Real Madrid – after a move in which the Iberian federation itself joined its president Luis Rubiales and that all-rounder of the media, controversy and businessman named Gérard Piqué. Transferring its traditional expertise to Saudi territory, provides the Spanish federation with a benefit of 40 million dollars a year and a similar figure would be for the Italians.

“The incorporation of Ronaldo and the Spanish Super Cup are part of the Crown Prince’s 2030 vision. It is about transforming the country at all levels and this is where sport also comes into play. It invests a lot in facilities, in signings, in hiring sports experts,” explained Mohamed Essa, delegate of the Spanish League to Saudi Arabia in a special production in the newspaper The world. “Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival is a milestone for the country and makes it compete with its neighbors the Emirates and Qatar. Here they assure that they will soon overcome them and more signings will come,” he added.

But the Saudi movement in sports is much broader. From 2021 cHe has a date in Formula 1, at the Jeddah circuit, which guarantees the highest category of motorsport a gross of 650 million dollars for a decade. It was at that circuit where Max Versappen and Lewis Hamilton staged a crazy race in 2021 and where the sponsor list includes Aramco, Rolex, Pirelli, Heineken, DHL and FLy Emirates. Right away, Saudi Arabia has invested an even larger amount for Mutmahl Holding, owner of the McLaren team. Even the Saudis they stayed with the Dakar Rally, which in the previous period was disputed in the South American territories, and they offer him about 15 million dollars a year. The Saudis also participate in the Aston Martin team and Formula 3 motorsports.

Boxing, whose appeal is maintained in some regions by the television business, has not escaped the Saudi adventure. In 2019 in Diriya organized the “clash of the dunes”, promoted the rematch between Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua for the unified heavyweight crown. According to the site The Athletic they invested a purse of 60 million dollars. Joshua returned to Saudi Arabia last August, where the purse for his fight against Oleksandr Usyk soared to $80 million.

Saudi Arabia too has ambitions to launch a golf league which rivals the traditional ones – mainly the American PGA – and last year they made their so-called “Liv Golf” with 25 million dollars in prize money, where they changed the traditional way of tournaments: here there were 54 holes instead of 72, granting prizes to all players, both individually and in teams. What’s in the immediate blueprint now, and under discussion at the top echelons of golf, is whether they’ll accept the $10 billion Super League that Saudi FIP is promising for a decade with its new tour, which has the former Australian technical point guard star Greg Norman, but who can upset the entire known routine of his sport.

The tennis, equestrian events and wrestling (here they guarantee $400 million for ten years to the WWE organization) are other moves. The country has also already secured the staging of the 2034 Asian Games, which they see as the stepping stone to the 2036 Olympics, if the IOC finally grants it.

Behind most of these movements and how The holder of the fund is none other than Mohamed bin Salman, the heir to the Saudi crown and that he was personally involved in the purchase of Newcastle, in the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo or in the round of golf.

At 38, Salman is one of the richest men in the world and owner of the most expensive mansion on the planet: his Louis XIV castle, next to Versailles, cost him 275 million euros. It has its doors completely bathed in gold, swimming pools, cellar and the only private underground aquarium in Europe. According to some sources of the hermetic world of art, such as the specialized magazine artnet, Salman would be the buyer of the most expensive painting in history (Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvatore Mundi” for 400 million dollars) and also owns a yacht worth…almost 500 million. But the prince was also at the center of the storm after Khashoggi’s assassination.

“Saudi Arabia’s entry into sports is part of a phased approach to the kingdom. And not only in sports, but also in business, entertainment and the arts, to alter the perception, both abroad and at home, that it is just a wealthy conservative Muslim monarchy”, defined The New York Times.

Source: Clarin

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