Mohammed bin Salman: ‘I’m Indifferent to ‘Sportswashing’ Accusations’
In a candid interview with Fox News, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, made it abundantly clear that he has little concern for the accusations of ‘sportswashing’ hurled at his kingdom. Despite international criticism, the Gulf nation has fervently invested in sports and leveraged high-profile events to enhance its global image.
One of the most notable moves in this endeavor was the takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF) last year, which raised eyebrows across the footballing world. Simultaneously, they launched LIV Golf, signaling their ambitious entry into the world of professional golf.
Bin Salman’s response to the ‘sportswashing’ accusations was unequivocal: “If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by 1%, then we’ll continue doing sportswashing. I don’t care [about the term]. I have 1% growth in GDP from sport, and I am aiming for another 1.5%. Call it what you want – we are going to get that 1.5%.”
It’s a statement that encapsulates the crown prince’s unapologetic stance on this matter. But what exactly is ‘sportswashing,’ and why does it raise such ire?
‘Sportswashing’ is a term coined to describe the practice of using sports events, teams, or investments to divert attention away from controversial issues and boost a country’s reputation on the global stage. In Saudi Arabia’s case, this comes amidst a backdrop of intense scrutiny for various human rights violations, including executions, women’s rights abuses, the criminalization of homosexuality, and the ongoing conflict in Yemen.
Furthermore, the 2018 assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent US-based Saudi journalist critical of the government, severely damaged the country’s international standing. In the eyes of human rights campaigners, Saudi Arabia’s foray into sports is seen as a calculated distraction from these longstanding reputation issues.
However, the Saudi authorities vehemently reject these allegations, framing their investment in sports as an integral part of their ‘Vision 2030’ strategy aimed at diversifying their economy. The country’s sovereign wealth fund boasts estimated assets of a staggering $620 billion, signifying their substantial financial muscle in the world of sports.
In the realm of football, Newcastle United’s green and white third kit from the previous season, which bore a striking resemblance to the Saudi Arabia national team kit, drew sharp criticism from organizations like Amnesty International. They labeled it as “clear evidence” of sportswashing.
Saudi Arabia is also set to host the Club World Cup in December, marking its first time staging a major FIFA event. Additionally, the nation is expected to submit bids to host either the 2030 or 2034 FIFA World Cup, further solidifying its presence in global football.
The Public Investment Fund (PIF) has also made substantial inroads into Saudi Arabia’s top clubs, including Al-Ahli, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, and Al-Nassr, securing high-profile signings such as Cristiano Ronaldo and reigning Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema.
The launch of the lucrative LIV Golf series in 2022 led to the PGA Tour and DP World Tour merging with PIF, creating a new unified men’s golfing league with Al-Rumayyan as its chair.
However, it’s worth noting that these investments haven’t been without controversy. Formula 1’s decision to host its inaugural race in Saudi Arabia in 2021 raised the ire of human rights groups, with seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton openly calling for improvements in the country’s human rights record before participating.
As the kingdom continues to march forward with its sportswashing strategy, the international community remains divided on whether this is a genuine effort to promote sports or a calculated move to deflect attention from more pressing issues. Only time will tell if the crown prince’s ambitious GDP growth targets will be realized through these sports investments, and whether the accusations of ‘sportswashing’ will persist or fade into history.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about ‘sportswashing’
What is ‘sportswashing’ and why is it associated with Saudi Arabia?
‘Sportswashing’ refers to the practice of using sports events, teams, or investments to divert attention away from controversial issues and boost a country’s reputation on the global stage. Saudi Arabia is often associated with sportswashing due to its significant investments in sports and high-profile events, which some view as an attempt to distract from human rights concerns and other reputation issues.
What has Saudi Arabia invested in the world of sports?
Saudi Arabia has made substantial investments in various sports ventures. They led the takeover of Newcastle United, launched LIV Golf, and secured control of top football clubs like Al-Ahli, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, and Al-Nassr. Additionally, they hosted Formula 1 races and are actively pursuing the hosting of FIFA World Cup events.
How does Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman respond to ‘sportswashing’ accusations?
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been unapologetic about ‘sportswashing’ accusations. He stated that if sportswashing can increase Saudi Arabia’s GDP by 1% and more, they will continue with it, emphasizing his focus on economic growth through sports investments.
What are the criticisms and controversies surrounding Saudi Arabia’s sports involvement?
Critics point to Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations, including executions, women’s rights abuses, and the criminalization of homosexuality, as well as their involvement in the war in Yemen. The 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based Saudi journalist critical of the government, further damaged their international reputation. Some argue that Saudi Arabia’s sports investments serve to distract from these issues.
Is Saudi Arabia’s sports investment part of a broader strategy?
Yes, Saudi Arabia frames its sports investments as a key component of its ‘Vision 2030’ strategy, aimed at diversifying its economy. The country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), plays a pivotal role in financing these sports ventures and has significant assets at its disposal.
What’s the outlook for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in sports?
Saudi Arabia continues to host major sporting events and invest heavily in sports ventures. Whether these investments genuinely promote sports or serve as a distraction tactic remains a subject of debate within the international community. The future will reveal whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious GDP growth targets through sports investments are attainable and whether ‘sportswashing’ accusations persist.
More about ‘sportswashing’
- Saudi Arabia’s ‘sportswashing’: What is it and why is it controversial?
- Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030
- Crown Prince bin Salman’s remarks on sportswashing
- Human rights concerns in Saudi Arabia
- Newcastle United’s Saudi-led takeover
- LIV Golf and Saudi Arabia’s golf ambitions
- Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Formula 1
- Saudi Arabia’s bid for FIFA World Cup hosting