Explore how Saudi Arabia is reshaping its economy and global image through massive investments in sports. From soccer stars to golf extravaganzas, discover how Crown Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 plan is redefining the kingdom’s future.
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 Transformation
In an ambitious bid to reshape its oil-dependent economy, Saudi Arabia has embarked on a massive investment in the realm of sports. Spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, this initiative is a central component of the Vision 2030 plan. Under this vision, the Saudis have undertaken significant endeavors, including the acquisition of Newcastle United and the sponsorship of a breakaway golf competition since 2021.
A Diverse Lineup of Sports Stars
Saudi Arabia’s economic transformation strategy has attracted renowned sports figures such as Cristiano Ronaldo, golfer Phil Mickelson, and boxer Anthony Joshua. These global icons have been strategically integrated into the plan to elevate the nation’s economic prospects.
Vision 2030’s Emphasis on Sports
The investment of billions of dollars into sports forms a pivotal aspect of Vision 2030. This ongoing project, championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aims to reduce the country’s reliance on oil revenues and solidify its position on the global stage.
The Controversy Surrounding Sports Investment
While Saudi Arabia’s sports investment plan is ambitious, it has not been without controversy. Critics argue that this approach amounts to “sportswashing,” suggesting that the regime is exploiting sports to improve its international image. This criticism comes amid allegations of human rights abuses, including the execution of nearly 200 individuals last year and the alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
A Broader Economic Aspiration
Beneath the surface of this controversy lies Crown Prince Mohammed’s grander vision: to elevate Saudi Arabia’s economic growth.
A Sports Spending Frenzy
Over the past two years, the world’s largest oil exporter has channeled substantial funds into various sports, including soccer, golf, combat sports, and Formula 1.
Saudi Arabia’s endeavor to dominate soccer centers around its investment in an industrial city in northeast England. In October 2021, the government-controlled Public Investment Fund (PIF) acquired an 80% stake in Premier League club Newcastle United for £305 million ($372 million) after 18 months of negotiations. Within just under two years, the club has seen hundreds of millions of dollars poured into new players, with the aim of elevating its performance in competitions such as the UEFA Champions League.
Expanding Soccer Talent Pool
Ronaldo’s signing with Riyadh-based Al Nassr in January marked a significant milestone, positioning PIF to attract some of the world’s top players to Saudi Arabia. In June, the fund assumed controlling stakes in the country’s four largest clubs, securing the participation of high-profile stars like Karim Benzema, Neymar, and Sadio Mané in the Saudi Pro League.
While soccer takes the limelight, Saudi Arabia’s investment extends to other sports. These efforts are aimed at achieving ambitious goals within a short timeframe.
The Rise of LIV Golf
In the same month as the Newcastle acquisition, PIF invested an estimated $2 billion in the LIV Golf competition. This event quickly attracted global stars such as Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and Brooks Koepka. LIV Golf is set to offer a staggering prize money pool of $405 million this year alone.
In a significant development, the competitions agreed in June to merge into a single entity funded and chaired by PIF. This move is widely seen as a political coup for Saudi Arabia.
High-Profile Sporting Events
Saudi Arabia has also invested tens of millions of dollars in hosting prestigious events, including heavyweight boxing matches featuring Anthony Joshua, WWE shows, and the Formula 1 Grand Prix held in Jeddah since 2021. Furthermore, the Gulf state is gearing up to host a highly anticipated undisputed heavyweight boxing contest between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk, which has been touted as “the biggest fight that could possibly be made in our sport” by boxing promoter Frank Warren.
Crown Prince Mohammed has responded bluntly to accusations of sportswashing, stating that he is undeterred by criticism. His focus remains on bolstering the Saudi economy, with the aim of achieving a 1% growth in GDP from sports and aiming for an additional 1.5%.
Economic Growth Through Sports
Crown Prince Mohammed has set forth on a journey to develop the sports industry, regardless of the terminology used to describe Saudi Arabia’s efforts. His primary objective is to secure GDP growth ranging from 2% to 3% through sports. This mirrors the significant contribution that sports make to the economies of the United States, France, and Germany.
Apart from economic growth, Saudi Arabia’s sports investments also serve to consolidate Crown Prince Mohammed’s political position. With nearly 70% of the Saudi population under the age of 35, attracting megastars like Ronaldo and their substantial social media followings enhances the kingdom’s appeal among the youth.
Sports Reflecting Saudi Culture
For many observers, three sports—soccer, fast cars, and combat sports—reflect Saudi Arabia’s aspiration to appeal to its youthful, patriarchal demographic.
Golf for Tourism
The investments in golf are tied to a strategy aimed at boosting Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning tourism sector. Crown Prince Mohammed has noted that tourism already accounts for 7% of GDP growth.
Expanding Sports Investment
Saudi Arabia shows no signs of slowing its investments in soccer, golf, Formula 1, and combat sports. Additionally, there are indications of a broader sports investment strategy.
In June, discussions with PIF and other investors centered on the creation of a tennis competition similar to LIV Golf, with endorsements from star players like Nick Kyrgios and Ons Jabeur.
Cricket and FIFA World Cup
There are quiet preparations for a cricket competition inspired by the Indian Premier League. Officials are hopeful of securing European support to host the FIFA World Cup in 2034.
A Long-Term Investment Strategy
Crown Prince Mohammed’s steadfast commitment to the long-term investment strategy in sports underscores Saudi Arabia’s determination to secure a prosperous future. This resolute approach to economic diversification and global recognition positions Saudi Arabia as a major player on the international stage.
In summary, Saudi Arabia’s venture into the world of sports, while not without its share of controversies, is an integral component of the nation’s Vision 2030 plan. With a clear focus on reducing dependency on oil revenues, enhancing GDP growth, and appealing to a youthful demographic, these investments reflect a multifaceted strategy to propel Saudi Arabia into a brighter economic future.
As we witness the kingdom’s continuous expansion into various sports, from soccer to golf and beyond, one thing remains clear: Saudi Arabia’s commitment to the world of sports is poised to remain a prominent and evolving narrative, shaping both its economy and global standing for years to come.