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Saudi Arabia in Sports, Friend or Foe?


If you asked me about Saudi Arabia money a few years ago, I would have no clue what you were talking about. Well, I definitely know now. It would be harder to not have heard about it. It seems like their money and influence are everywhere nowadays, whether it be on TV, in sports, or on the news. I believe that this isn’t a mistake. For some context, let’s back up for a little history lesson. Saudi Arabia has a lot of wealth due to their surplus of oil. And in 1971, someone in the Saudi was like “Hey, we have a lot of money. Let’s make a giant savings account for the country!” And they did just that. Well, now that savings account, called a Public Investment Fund (PIF) now has $514 billion dollars in it. And recently, this money has been spent on sports. A lot of money, for a lot of different sports. They have been involved in tennis, F1 racing, horseracing, WWE, boxing, and cricket. However, the biggest two sports they have been putting their attention towards are golf and soccer.
LIV golf emerged in 2022, raising only a couple of eyebrows. However, in 2023, they exploded in popularity with the signings of Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, and many more. These players made a startling move, leaving the prestigious PGA Tour for a tour just created.
Not surprisingly, PGA was not happy about that. They were actually pretty angry. This can be seen when they banned Phil Michelson from the PGA Tour for two years because he was encouraging others to come with him. Now, you might be wondering, why would you leave the most famous tour for a new tour with no street cred? Well, there’s a simple answer: money. The players receive a huge sign-on bonus and play for an insane amount of money every event. The event has a total purse of $25 million, with the winner receiving $4 million. Another influencing thing: the events are shorter, only 54 holes compared to PGA’s 72 holes. And lastly and maybe the most influential, you get paid no matter where you place! So, you can just be there and get paid $120,000. I’d say that’s a pretty good deal if it were up to me.
Now we explore the soccer world. Soccer is undisputedly the biggest sport in the world with billions of dollars spent on it. Now, the Saudi Pro League (YES, another new league for a sport. Seeing a theme?) is gaining on the leaderboards for the most money spent on players. They have spent their moolah on “class” players like Karim Benzema, Roberto Firmino, Neymar, and the most famous Cristiano Ronaldo. These contracts are outrageous. For example, Ronaldo has a contract of $222.6 million ending in 2025.
However even with all of the spending, this league at the moment is not at the heights of the bigger guys like the Bundesliga and Premier League due to lack of fans, history, and outside support. In addition, they have been only buying older players and are seen as a “retirement fund.” However, I believe I will see them gaining popularity in a couple of years. Why? Because they are now moving for younger players. A reported billion-dollar deal was attempted for Paris Saint-Germain star Killian Mbappé: $776 million for Mbappe, and $224 million for the club. Mbappe is the greatest young talent in the world today. It shows that Saudi is interested in getting better, wanting young talent to grow and improve their league for years to come.
Ok. So Saudi Arabia has a lot of money. They like to spend them on sports. Why? In my opinion they want to appear better in society while not doing some good things in the background, called sportswashing. Sportswashing is defined as “the practice of an organization, a government, a country, etc. supporting sports or organizing sports events as a way to improve its reputation.” In the world view, they look like founders of new leagues to help their citizens find a passion in the sport. I don’t believe this cover.
Now, Saudi Arabia’s Money is in a PIF, and the owner, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is the prime minister of Saudi Arabia. Why would the prime minister care about spending tons of money on sports so much? It doesn’t make sense. Another concerning thing, this guy allegedly approved the assassination of a journalist. Ya, he is very sketchy. Lastly, Saudi Arabia has done some pretty crazy things with jail time. Their “uncorrupt” judicial system has sent journalists and just random people in the country who speak badly about them on Twitter to jail for 10+ years. Their rights for women also aren’t too good. In the country, they don’t get a lot of freedom. For example, they have to get approved to marry, leave prison, and even get healthcare from a dude.
What Saudi Arabia is doing is smart but is not morally right. Their interest in the sports people love is totally false. It ruins the game. It ruins the people who play in the game. It makes a bad taste in my mouth for me to write about this. Something needs to change, and soon. Saudi needs to be seen for what they are doing. Yes, money is powerful, and it creates greed. But I believe that people still have good in them and can slap that money away and step towards making things right for the world.

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About the Contributor
David Barkmeier
David Barkmeier, Reporter
David joined The Mount Journalism team in 2023. Barkmeier also participates in soccer and cross country.
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