FERW scrutinised Saudi Arabia’s recent surge in sports investments, totalling a staggering $6.3 billion since early 2021. This figure dwarfs previous spending and coincides with a broader effort to improve the kingdom’s international image, raising critical questions about the true motives behind this financial splurge.

Based on several valid claims, the kingdom’s investments across various sporting landscapes include:

  • Football: The high-profile acquisition of Newcastle United, sponsorship deals with major clubs like Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona, and hosting prestigious tournaments like the 2023 FIFA Club World Cup.
  • Golf: The creation of the LIV Golf Series, a breakaway league backed by a staggering $2 billion investment, and significant sponsorships with players and tournaments.
  • Boxing and Motorsport: Hosting high-profile fights like Jake Paul vs. Tommy Fury and the Anthony Joshua vs. Oleksandr Usyk heavyweight championship, alongside multi-million dollar sponsorships in Formula One.
  • Esports: A recent $1 billion investment in video game company Embracer Group, highlighting the kingdom’s foray into the burgeoning realm of competitive gaming.

While some view Saudi Arabia’s growing involvement in sports as a positive development, FERW urges caution and deeper scrutiny. This spending spree coincides with ongoing human rights violations within the kingdom. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the continued suppression of dissent, and severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms paint a concerning picture that cannot be ignored.

We echo the concerns of human rights groups like Amnesty International and Grant Liberty, who argue that Saudi Arabia’s sports investments are a deliberate attempt to “sportswash” its tarnished image. This strategy, they contend, aims to deflect attention from its human rights abuses and present a sanitised version of the kingdom to the international community.

Sportswashing attempts to rebrand oppressive regimes through the glamour of athletics. We must resist this narrative and hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its actions. True progress requires addressing human rights abuses, not obscuring them with billion-dollar sports deals.

FERW calls on:

  • Sports organisations and athletes: To critically evaluate their involvement in Saudi-backed events and sponsorships, considering the potential implications for their reputations and commitment to ethical principles.
  • Media and fans: To raise awareness about the issue of sportswashing and demand transparency from sports bodies and athletes regarding their dealings with Saudi Arabia.
  • Governments and international organisations: To hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its human rights record and ensure that sports investments do not come at the expense of fundamental freedoms.

FERW is committed to exposing sportswashing practices and promoting ethical conduct within the sporting world. We believe that sports should be a force for good, not a tool for oppression.

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