Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has spent almost £5 billion (RM29.8b) on sports since early 2021, reported The Guardian

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says he doesn't care when he is accused of sportswashing

Saudi Arabia has been investing heavily in sports at home and abroad - especially for the past two years - and that has led to accusations that the high-profile strategy is designed to launder the nation's reputation and deflect attention away from its poor human rights record.

But speaking to Fox News in a rare television interview, Bin Salman said: "If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by one per cent, then we'll continue sportswashing.

"I don't care. I have one per cent growth in GDP from sport and I am aiming for another 1.5 per cent.

"Call it whatever you want - we are going to get that 1.5 per cent."

Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund - the Public Investment Fund (PIF) - was seriously considering buying Manchester United before it bought an 80 per cent stake in Newcastle for £244m (RM1.5b) in October 2021.

More than £3 billion (RM18b) has been spent on transforming the fortunes of the Saudi Pro League (SPL). PIF has signed sponsorship agreements with Saudi clubs worth £1.8 billion (RM10.7b) and in June, it announced it was effectively taking over four of the country's leading clubs.

SPL clubs spent more than £800 million (RM4.8b) signing 94 foreign players this summer.

Saudi Arabia has also made significant investments in golf, boxing, Formula One and tennis. The FIFA Club World Cup is being held in the country for the first time in December and its long-term ambition is to host the World Cup in 2034.

According to The Guardian, Saudi Arabia has spent almost £5 billion (RM29.8b) on sports deals since the start of 2021.

However, Amnesty International has accused Saudi Arabia of embarking on a programme of "sportswashing to try to obscure its extremely poor human rights record".

Human Rights Watch has added: "Saudi Arabia spends billions of dollars hosting major entertainment, cultural and sporting events to deflect from the country's poor human rights record."

In its 2022 world report, Human Rights Watch concluded that some reforms had been announced in Saudi Arabia but added: "Ongoing repression and contempt for basic rights are major barriers to progress."

A United Nations investigation into the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi said his death "constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the state of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible".

'Saudis see investment in sport as changing the narrative towards them'

Sky Sports's Kaveh Solhekol explains why Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says he does not care about accusations of sportswashing after the increasing growth of sports in the country

Sky Sports' chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol said:

"Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been the real driving force behind this strategy we've seen from Saudi Arabia of investing in sports, both home and abroad. They face accusations they are just doing this to launder their reputation on the international stage and also to deflect attention away from Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record.

"In his rare interview with Fox Newsone of the things he was asked about was this accusation of sportswashing - and he sounded pretty relaxed about it. It was quite remarkable to hear him talk so openly about it, but, of course, there are two sides to the story.

"People inside Saudi Arabia connected to the regime would say this is all about diversifying their economy, but critics will say this is all about sportswashing and laundering their reputation.

"If we were talking about Saudi Arabia a couple of years ago, we would be talking about the fact it was an ultra-conservative, closed-off state that had an extremely poor human rights record and a very repressive government. Obviously, the government of Saudi Arabia don't want us to be talking in those terms. They would much rather we talked about Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, the Grand Prix, the fact they are buying into golf, the fact they want to host the World Cup.

"For them, it changes the narrative and the way they are seen around the world. That is what critics would say.

"What they would say, themselves, is that their economy is reliant on oil. The reason they are so rich is because they have so much oil. That oil is not going to last forever and we've seen people in the west switch to electric cars, for instance, so the demand for petrol is not going to be as great as it is at the moment and they need to diversify and get into other things.

"One of the other things they need to get into, they think, is sport, which is why we've seen the investment - and one of their most high-profile acquisitions has been Newcastle United. They have tried to sign other clubs; I know they seriously considered trying to buy Manchester United before they bought Newcastle. Looking at it now, you'd say Newcastle was the better investment."

Adapted from the article written by Kaveh Solhekol, first published by Sky Sports on September 21, 2023. Kaveh Solhekol is the chief reporter of the publication.

The appearance and act on the above video are for illustration purpose only.


Adaptation by Fauzi Kadir,
Chief Editor

Assisted by Jamaliah Mohd Salleh,
Assistant Editor

Final editing and brought to you by

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