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And Saudi Arabia will try to hide its other weaknesses with sports washing

And Saudi Arabia will try to hide its other weaknesses with sports washing

Al-Hilal Club is the most successful football team in Saudi Arabia with 66 trophies and has also won the AFC Champions League a record four times, making the Riyadh-based club the most successful team in Asia.

Despite an impressive past, for many fans the 19th of August 2023 marked the beginning of a new era when Neymar Jr. was unveiled in front of over 65,000 cheering supporters.

The ambitious project to turn Saudi Arabia into an international football hub began with the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo to victory in January in a two-and-a-half-year deal worth more than $400m (£318m, €370m) as a player. attacker.

This opened the door wide for the summer transfer window, when the Saudi League acquired some of the biggest names in the sport. Karim Benzema was the next big signing in June when he moved from Real Madrid to Al-Ittihad in Jeddah.

Since then, many high-profile names, including Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez, Jordan Henderson and N’Golo Kante, have moved from the European Premier League to the Saudi Professional League.

Over the summer, the Saudi Professional League spent more than $850 million on transfer fees, making it the second largest spender after the English Premier League.

And this figure does not include the huge salaries that were offered in the first place to attract players from the major European leagues.

According to the league’s chief financial officer, Carlo Nohra, this is not a one-time phenomenon. The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has committed to financially support the league until it reaches its goal of becoming one of the best leagues in the world in terms of revenue and quality. The Saudi Professional League aims to compete with teams from the English Premier League and the Spanish League.

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According to Nohra, they will continue to spend big money on attracting foreign players until the league reaches its goal, but at the same time they will also work on unlocking commercial value.

“Although we are committed to achieving our objectives however long it takes, it is important for us to make ourselves commercially viable, to be responsible for our own financial growth and not to be completely dependent on government capital” – Tell Yay for the BBC.

The world’s largest oil exporter has invested billions of dollars in sports, including revamping the Saudi Professional League, Formula One and the lucrative game LIV Golf. Some critics called it “sportswashing” to deflect attention from its poor human rights record.

However, some experts believe that Saudi Arabia’s strategy is not only about image and reputation management. According to Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economics at Schema Business School in Paris, “Countries around the world are using sports and entertainment as a political tool to project soft power.”

“This is one element of the political arsenal that Saudi Arabia is currently deploying. We are talking about a race between nations to win the hearts and minds of people around the world. Great Britain, the United States, France, India and many other countries have this policy. “Now the Saudis are doing the same thing,” adds Professor Chadwick.

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