Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman has expressed nonchalance over allegations of his country’s ‘sports washing’.
The 38-year old ruler said he does not care about allegations of ‘sportswashing’ against the Saudi kingdom, further adding that he will continue to give financial support to sporting activities if it increases the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Sportswashing is the act of sponsoring a sports team by companies or governments in order to divert attention from social and environmental problems being faced in the company or state. This tactic is often used by companies and governments with poor environmental or human rights records, exploiting people’s love of sport to ‘wash’ their image clean.
‘Sportswashing’ allegations has been commonly levelled at the Middle East countries as they are recognized to be using sport to improve their tarnished image abroad.
The Crown Prince empahsized on his aim to simply increase his state’s GDP even of it means using ‘sportswashing’.
“If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by 1%, then we will continue doing sportswashing,” the de-facto Saudi leader said in an interview with Fox News that aired last week.
“I don’t care. [Saudi Arabi] has 1% growth in GDP from sport, and I am aiming for another 1.5% [growth in the country. Call it whatever you want.”
The nation of Saudi Arabia has made significant investments in tennis, golf, Formula One, football and boxing in recent times through its Public Wealth Fund, which is headed by the kingdom’s de-facto ruler, Prince Mohammed bin Salman since 2015.
Aside from harsh criticisms of Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights, the nation is accused of engaging in ‘sportswashing’ by critics to leverage its sovereign wealth fund.
Accusations of violations of human rights have been denied by Saudi Arabia, which also claims that its legal system safeguards its national security.
Public International Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia owns 80% of English Premier League team Newcastle United and supported LIV Golf, which signed high-profile golfers from the Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA) Tour and DP European World Tour before announcing a merger and creation of a single commercial business.
The PIF of Saudi Arabia is among the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world with total estimated assets of US$776 billion (£538 billion).
Since 2021, Saudi Arabia has hosted a Formula One Grand Prix and boxing world championship bouts. This year, it will host a professional tennis competition for the first time.
Earlier this year, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced a Sports Clubs Investment and Privatization Project involving the league champions Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr and Al Hilal, with a host of top players moving to the league.
PIF own 75 per cent of each of the four clubs, while their respective non-profit foundations own 25 per cent of each.
Based on reported fees, Saudi clubs paid just over $1 billion on players, which would place it behind only the English Premier League in terms of global spending during the summer transfer window.
Man city’s Pep Guardiola commented that Al-Nassr striker, Cristiano Ronaldo made it easy for other players to move to Saudi Arabia since he was the first big player to sign for a Saudi Arabia club.
The 2023 summer transfer window saw big-name players such as Neymar, Karim Benzema, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy, Ngolo Kante, Koulibaly Ruben, Neves, Firmino, Otavio, Malcom, Mahrez Aymeric Laporte and among others, all move to clubs in Saudi Arabia for lucrative offers.
Story by: Asack Pius | univers.ug.edu.gh