Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has spent billions of dollars on high-profile international sporting events in a bid to bolster his reputation, said a new report by Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies James M. Dorsey.
Temperatures in north-western Saudi Arabia, on average, seldom, if ever, drop below eight degrees Celsius except in the 2,400-metre high Sarawat mountains, where snow falls at best occasionally. However, that hasn’t prevented Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from envisioning Saudi Arabia as competing for winter sports tourism.
The kingdom would do so by including winter sports in Mr. Bin Salman’s US$500 billion Neom fantasia, a futuristic new city and tourism destination along the Red Sea in a mostly unpopulated part of the kingdom.
A game of jealousy!
The winter sports bid is part of a big-splash Saudi effort to establish itself as the Gulf’s foremost player in international sports, a position so far occupied by Qatar with its hosting of this year’s World Cup and the United Arab Emirates that, like Qatar, owns one of the world’s top European soccer clubs.
Saudi Arabia recently bought English Premier League club Newcastle United and sparked controversy by attracting with vast sums of money some of the world’s top golf players to compete in a new tournament that kicked off in one of former US President Donald J. Trump’s resorts.
Tiger Woods reportedly turned down a US$700 to 800 million offer to join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series. However, others, including Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and Bryson DeChambeau, have jumped on the Saudi bandwagon.
Saudi Arabia has also signed a 10-year, $650m deal for a Formula One motor racing event, partnered with World Wrestling Entertainment for annual shows, and hosted the world heavyweight championship rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.
Less than a year after signing with Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain, soccer superstar Lionel Messi has emerged as the tourism ambassador for the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah.
Saudi Arabia’s Strategy to ‘Sportswash’ Abuses
Under Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is rolling out ever more entertainment and sporting events, an apparent attempt to “sportswash” away its abusive rights reputation using large-scale events, with highly controlled environments, to show a progressive face of the kingdom.
Barely one year after Saudi state agents murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi officials are racing to lock in hosting contracts with other major sports federations.
Instead of using sports to rehabilitate its global image, it would be cheaper and easier for Saudi Arabia to simply undertake fundamental human rights reforms and respect the basic rights of its citizens in order to improve its image and standing in the world.