Why does Saudi Arabia want to spend billions of dollars to become a football power?

Why does Saudi Arabia want to spend billions of dollars to become a football power? The world’s largest oil exporter is investing billions of dollars in the world of sports, including Formula One and LIV Golf, in addition to changing the face of the Saudi Pro League.

Some critics are calling the process “sportswashing” because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record to divert the world’s attention from the real issues.

Al-Hilal Club is the first tier football team of Saudi Arabia which has won 66 trophies. The club has also won the AFC Champions League four times and is considered the most successful football team in Asia.

Despite such an impressive history, a new chapter in the club’s history began on 19 August 2023 when Neymar Jr. joined the club in front of 65,000 fans.

When the Brazilian footballer took to the ground wearing Al Hilal Club’s traditional blue kit, there were first fireworks, followed by a drone show in which Neymar’s face was prominently displayed in the skies above Riyadh.

Abdullah, a fan of Al-Hilal Club, was also present at the event. “This is a very special day for us,” he told the BBC. Neymar is a big star. He will bring many fans with him to Al Hilal.

I think now the whole of Brazil will support us and the club will be known everywhere.

Efforts to make Saudi Arabia a center of international football began with Cristiano Ronaldo joining the Saudi club Al Nasr.

Ronaldo signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with the Saudi club in January, which will see Ronaldo earn more than $400 million.

The arrival of Ronaldo changed the football league in Saudi Arabia very quickly and the big names of the sports world started joining different clubs. Karim Benzema joined Al Ittihad in Jeddah from Real Madrid in June.

Apart from them, Sadio Man, Riyad Mahrez, Jordan Henderson, and N’Golo Kante have also left the European League and joined the Saudi Pro League.

This year, the Saudi Pro League has spent more than $850 million on transfer fees for international players, not including the monthly compensation that will be paid to these players.

According to Carlo Nohra, the league’s chief financial officer, such a large sum of money was not just thrown away for one time. The Saudi government has assured the football league that it will continue to provide financial support until it becomes the highest-rated league in the world in terms of profitability and quality.

The Saudi Pro League wants to compete with the English Premier League and La Liga.

Carlo Nohra says he will continue to spend money to bring international players to Saudi Arabia until this goal is achieved, but at the same time, he is working on improving his financial value.

Speaking to the BBC, he said, “It is important that we make ourselves financially viable so that we can do our own economic development and not just rely on government money.”

“Soft Power”

The world’s largest oil exporter is investing billions of dollars in the world of sports, including Formula One and LIV Golf, in addition to changing the face of the Saudi Pro League.

Some critics are calling the process ‘sportswashing’ to divert the world’s attention because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

However, some experts believe that fame is not the only reason behind this strategy. Simon Chadwick is Professor of Sport and Geopolitical Economy at Schema Business School in Paris.

“Countries around the world use sports and entertainment as a strategy to express their soft power,” he says.

This is part of the same strategy that Saudi Arabia is using. It is a competition between nations to win the hearts and minds of people globally. Britain, America, France, India and many other countries have been using this strategy. And now the Saudis are doing the same.

Another key objective behind Saudi Arabia’s strategy is to rebuild its economy before its oil wealth runs out. Oil provides 40 percent of Saudi Arabia’s economy.

Sports is an important pillar in the ‘Vision 2030’ which is being nurtured by Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. The government’s effort is to promote economic diversification and reduce dependence on oil, develop new sectors and create employment opportunities.

Carlo Nohra says, “On the one hand, our goal is to entertain the Saudi people and on the other hand, we want to develop local talent so that the Pro League can grow in the long term.”

Football is a popular sport in Saudi Arabia and 80% of the country’s population is involved in the sport in some form or another.

However, it is too early to say whether the country’s recent multi-investment will pay off. It can be said that this strategy is expressing Saudi Arabia’s desire to become a major power in the world of football.

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