Amid the moralistic and hysterical shrieking about sports washing or image laundering, Saudi Arabia’s disruption of the global sports establishment continues unabated.

Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of ‘soft power’ via sports is building a head of steam and steadily gaining traction. Saudis are moving themselves from the margins of the international sports community to become neatly woven into the intricate tapestry of various sporting codes.

The Saudi Arabia case study is proof that money can buy influence and a seat at world sport’s top table. Through strategic entrepreneurship, Saudis are now major stakeholders in various sports, a manufactured status made possible by the country’s vast resources.

Thanks to the political regime’s deliberate quest for soft power, Saudi Arabia’s tentacles now extend to all the major sports. The growing influence has got the heckles up the traditionalists’ backs, especially the self-appointed gatekeepers aggrieved by “the hijacking of our sport.”

It’s disproportionate influence for a country not renowned for its sporting prowess, but Saudi Arabia’s growing influence is commensurate with the resources the country is ploughing into sports ventures. It is yet another reminder that influence can be purchased for the right price.

Golf, one happy family again

After a year of acrimonious litigation, the PGA and DP World Tour this week agreed to merge with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf.

The launch of LIV had left golf severely fractured, the game as we knew it wrecked and hollowed out. The shock merger restores golf to something of its former self, with some positive reforms in the offing, and Saudi Arabia as the catalyst.

The uncomfortable truth for the protectionist traditionalists is that the Saudis, through the situation they engineered with LIV Golf, forced the custodians of the sport to the negotiation table. Through the merger, effectively rapprochement between former sworn enemies, the Saudis have gate-crashed their way into the game’s inner sanctum. That’s quite some influence.

Next football frontier?

The Saudis have also managed to insinuate themselves into the world of football.

The English Premier League will have two Saudi-owned clubs next season, promoted Sheffield United and Newcastle United. The latter will also be playing in the European Champions League.

The Magpies were last in the Champions League 20 years ago. Saudi resources have hauled them out of the wilderness and catapulted them back into Europe’s elite club competition.

Interestingly, Newcastle United now have four sister clubs in the Saudi Pro League, after owners of the Premier League club bought newly crowned Saudi champions Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, and Al-Ahli.

The gracious host

Apart from being on the Formula One Grand Prix circuit, Saudi Arabia has been actively offering itself as host for a range of international sporting events. Because money is no object, the events tend to go rather swimmingly, adding feather after feather to the Saudis’ cap.

Two-pronged strategy

The Saudis are not just sports entrepreneurs buying sports clubs all over the world, in the process exporting their influence beyond their borders. They are also now actively importing sports talent, luring top athletes to the country with obscene salaries.

The policy is a nod to the era when China was doing the same not long ago, offering footballers hefty contracts to swap some of Europe’s top leagues for the Chinese league. Now the Saudis are rivalling if not usurping China and arguably even outstripping the USA’s Major League Soccer as the next football frontier.

Saudi football clubs are lining up “galacticos” in the twilight of their careers, luring them to the country with eye-watering contracts. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, the top two record goal scorers in Real Madrid’s iconic and storied history are on the books of Saudi clubs. More players will follow them.

Benzema is still an excellent player, but at 35 his best years are behind him. Yet at Al-Ittihad he will be commanding a salary greater than he did at the peak of his powers at Real Madrid where he won every trophy on offer, individually and collectively.

Ronaldo is three years Benzema’s senior and on equally ridiculous terms at Al-Nassr.

For his part, Ronaldo is emerging as the mascot for the Saudis’ drive to lure football players to the country’s professional league, a role akin to that played by David Beckham for the MLS.

Saudi Arabia, with its ‘money is no object’ policy, is emerging as footballers’ preferred destination for one last hurrah and big payday before they hang up their boots.

With more players set to beat a path to the country’s top league, could Saudi Arabia be poised to become the next football frontier?


I'm Barrie Jarrett, born in Leeds, lived over a decade in South Africa, CEO And Co Founder of Planet Sport Limited and Planet Bet Limited.

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