Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, LIV Golf: Inside Saudi Arabia’s Concerted Efforts Ahead of 2030 World Cup Bid

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, LIV Golf: Inside Saudi Arabia’s Concerted Efforts Ahead of 2030 World Cup Bid

Martin Moses
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:27 PM
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  • Saudi Arabia has been accused of trying to divert attention from human rights violations by investing heavily in sports
  • The Crown Prince has set a target of Vision 2030 which includes marketing the country as an ideal sports destination
  • There has been heavy investment in sports by the Saudis, with the 2030 World Cup bid one of their achievable objectives

Saudi Arabia are set to rival the likes of Argentina and Uruguay for the hosting rights of the 2030 World Cup.

They will be aiming to stage the second event in the Middle East after a successful edition in Qatar last year.

Saudi authorities have invested heavily in marketing the kingdom as a true sporting destination in what critics have termed as 'sports washing.'

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, LIV Golf, Saudi Arabia, Sports washing, Saudi Arabia Grand Prix
Saudi Arabia players celebrate during their game versus Argentina at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar on November 22, 2022. Photo by Julian Finney.
Source: Getty Images

The country has opened its doors to diverse sports in recent years as they seek to cleanse its image ahead of its rumoured 2030 World Cup bid.

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Human rights violations remain one of the key issues bedevilling the nation, with Amnesty International painting a dark situation.

Sports washing can be defined as the deliberate act of trying to use political power in sports to divert the attention of the public from a country's human rights concerns.

Saudi Arabia will be keen on getting a better image, with the 2030 World Cup believed to be a major target for the kingdom. There are a number of occurrences that have happened, though unrelated, that point to a nation keen on pacifying its image.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo at Al-Nassr

Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival in the Middle East wasn't without fanfare. The most followed human being across all social media channels was handed the wealthiest contract in football history.

Although Al-Nassr has denied the five-time Ballon d'Or winner will play a role in Saudi's World Cup bid, his presence alone is a major boost for a country desperate to elevate its sports standards.

2. The Lionel Messi deal

Apart from the Ronaldo deal, the Saudi Arabian kingdom got his arch-rival, Lionel Messi to agree to become an ambassador of the country as part of its 2030 vision, the Guardian reported.

The terms of Messi's deal are unclear because, as Sports Brief previously reported, Argentina are preparing a bid for the same showpiece.

However, getting the two most talked about players involved in the matters of your country's sports must be a part of a long-term agenda.

3. LIV Golf

LIV Golf is exclusively funded by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia as they attempt to lure top professional golfers to ditch the PGA tour. So much did the PGA tour feel threatened that they announced a ban on any golfer who would cross over to the alternative tour.

To use football terms, LIV Golf is the equivalent of what the European Super League wanted to be. Its major attraction has been the huge sums of money on offer.

The Athletic reports that Charles Howell III won 4 million USD which, when compared to what he earned at the PGA tours, was way more.

4. Formula 1

2021 saw the first Grand Prix take place at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

Like any other sports initiative taken by the kingdom, it received backlash from human rights activists, with the Formula 1 body forced to release a statement to explain how it has 'worked hard to be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social and cultural benefits'.

Newcastle's takeover by the PIF in 2021 is also another stark example of Saudi Arabia's efforts to assert itself in the sports industry.

Whether they succeed or not in their long-term agenda of hosting the World Cup, the train has already left the station.

The kingdom has identified sports as one of the areas it can use to complement its vast oil fields. They have the money; they have the resources. All they need is to change the narrative - even if it means turning a blind eye.

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Martin Moses
Martin Moses is a sports journalist with over five years of experience in media. He graduated from Multimedia University of Kenya (Bachelor of Journalism, 2017-2021)