Saudi Arabia wants to become a great footballing nation. Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the country’s sports minister, spoke about a possible takeover of English football clubs Manchester United and Liverpool by private Saudi players. The minister told the BBC he would support ” without a doubt offers from its private sector. ” We will certainly support the arrival of a private actor, because we know that it will have a positive impact on the sport in the kingdom (…) I cannot speak on behalf of the private sector, but there are many interest and appetite, and football arouses many passions “, he specified.
The statement follows an announcement by the American owners of Manchester on November 23 that they might sell the club, when those of Liverpool also said on November 7 that they were open to new shareholders.
An opportunity for Saudi Arabia which is more and more interested in football. Last year, Saudi Arabia managed to get their hands on English club Newcastle United who currently occupy third place in the Premier League. For this acquisition, the kingdom relied on a consortium comprising the Saudi investment fund PCP Capital Partners and the brothers David and Simon Reuben.
Attempt to seduce Cristiano Ronaldo
Apart from club takeover deals, the country tried in November to sign famous soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo to join a Saudi club for a salary of 350 million euros a year.
The Minister of Sports has also declared that ” everything is possible, I would like to see Ronaldo play in our league (…) It would benefit the league, the sports ecosystem in Saudi Arabia and it would inspire young people for the future. He is a role model for many children and he has a large fan base in Saudi Arabia. “. An attempt, however, remained unsuccessful but which confirms the country’s growing interest in football.
Saudi Arabia, which is not known for its attraction to football, is trying to develop this sport within its country. The country’s national team also made a lot of noise on Saturday November 19 by beating the Argentinian team 2 goals to 1 during the group matches of the World Cup which takes place in Qatar.
The 2030 FIFA World Cup as a goal
The country is in talks with Egypt and Greece over a transcontinental bid for the 2030 World Cup, an Egyptian official said in September. The country’s sports minister said at the time that ” every country in the world would love to host the World Cup. At the same time, the principality has also shown itself to be in favor of hosting the Asian Women’s and Men’s Cups in 2026 and 2027.
And the government of Mohammed ben Salman is even ready to invest to be at the center of the football world. ” We need to modernize some of our venues (…) We have a lot of stadiums that meet the requirement that we need, but hosting such an event is not just a question of stadiums, it is a question of infrastructure, people, preparing everyone for such an event “Said Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal.
A country in search of soft-power
If the country seeks to shine in football, it is also to have a greater cultural weight on the rest of the world. Saudi Arabia is indeed in the grip of tensions with the administration of American President Joe Biden. The American president and Mohamed Ben Salman did not exchange together at the G20, organized last week in Indonesia.
Relations between the Saudi kingdom and the United States were strained in October. This, since OPEC+ (i.e. the 13 members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, with 10 other partners, led by Russia) has decided to reduce its production quotas, in order to support crude prices which were falling. What lead to an increase in prices and thus bail out the coffers of Russia, which relies on its sales of hydrocarbons to finance its war in Ukraine.
For Joe Biden, the crown prince has thus sided with Russia. In any case, this affair turned into a diplomatic fiasco for the American president, who had traveled to Saudi Arabia in July to meet Mohammed bin Salman, despite having sworn, during his campaign, to make the kingdom a “pariah” country at the following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Accusations of not respecting human rights
Saudi Arabia is also widely criticized by human rights organizations for its record in this area. Saudi authorities executed twice as many people in 2022 as in 2021, including for offenses related to terrorism and drug trafficking, according to an AFP tally. The country executed 187 people in 2019, 27 in 2020, 69 in 2021 and 138 this year. In 1992, the Arabian monarchy passed the Basic Law making homicide, rape, armed robbery, witchcraft, adultery, sodomy, homosexuality and apostasy the death penalty. A law that runs counter to Western values and human rights, according to several NGOs.
On Wednesday, November 23, France, for example, condemned “ execution by theArabia saudi of 17 people since November 10 (…) France recalls its constant opposition to the death penalty, in all places and in all circumstances (and) remains committed with determination to the universal abolition of this unjust, inhuman and ineffective “, indicates the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a press release. Not sure therefore that football can erase the bad image that part of the world has of Saudi Arabia.
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