Sports and human rights: Saudi Arabia and sports washing

The PR machine is running at full speed bad picture Saudi Arabia in the field of human rights In this way, the authorities hope to attract foreign investors. Saudi authorities like to exploit major sporting events to distract from human rights violations and improve their international reputation. It involves a large sum of money.

In 2023, world-famous footballers such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante moved to football clubs in the Saudi League. Ronaldo earns an estimated 200 million euros annually at Al-Nasr Football Club. Benzema reportedly receives the same annual salary while Kante had to settle for €100 million per year. Brazilian footballer Neymar followed in the same year. He replaces Paris Saint-Germain with Al Hilal Saudi Arabia and will receive 160 million euros over the next two years.

In addition to attracting world-famous footballers, Saudi Arabia is increasingly attracting sporting events. At the beginning of 2023, the battle between football clubs Internazionale and Milan for the Italian Super Cup took place in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. In the period 2019-2021, it previously won Spanish Football Cup matches for 145 million euros. At least €97 million was paid for the widely watched ‘Clash of the Dunes’ between boxers Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. World Wrestling Entertainment struck a deal in 2014 to host wrestling matches in Saudi Arabia for 10 years. This contract raised at least 440 million euros. the organization GrantLiberty It calculates that Saudi Arabia has already spent around €1.5 billion since Vision 2030 to bring high-profile sporting events to the country.

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Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo attends an induction ceremony for his new club Al-Nassr in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on January 3, 2023.

Potential future sporting events

The country considered participating in the battle to organize the FIFA World Cup in 2030, but withdrew when it became clear that other countries had a better chance of doing so. After the 2022 World Cup in Qatar – which was widely criticized for the gross exploitation of migrant workers – Saudi Arabia thought it had a good chance. Saudi Arabia may try to win the 2034 FIFA World Cup. In 2023, it was announced that there were discussions about a sponsorship deal between the Saudi tourism agency, Visit Saudi Arabia, and world football’s governing body, FIFA, for the upcoming Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. These matters did not lead to an agreement.

In 2027, Saudi Arabia will organize the Asian Football Cup. The country will host the Asian Winter Games in 2029.

Sports wash

At the end of April 2016, Bin Salman announced his future plans for Saudi Arabia. He wants to reform the economy so that the country becomes less dependent on oil revenues and becomes more attractive to foreign investors. We are Vision 2030 It also has a social and cultural aspect. The government wants to improve the quality of life and opportunities for young men and women. Saudi Arabia has a young population: about 70% of them are under 35 years old. Last year they gained more freedoms. According to Al-Arabi Laila Al-Zwaini Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to prevent his subjects from demanding more freedoms, and hopes to please them with big football names in the popular Saudi league. Women have also been allowed to attend football matches since 2018.

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A country that wants to polish its image by organizing a prestigious sporting event or by purchasing or sponsoring a famous sports team and wants to hide the fact that there is a lot wrong with regard to human rights. Sports wash. We give some examples.

Racing drivers Lewis Hamilton (right) and Max Verstappen (left) during a press conference after the Formula 1 race in Brazil. Shortly afterwards the two raced in Saudi Arabia

Car racing in Saudi Arabia

On December 5, 2021, Formula 1 drivers raced in Saudi Arabia. A new department was created for this purpose. Formula 1 president Stefano Domenicali said in a conversation with BBC The Sports Federation independently monitors whether the human rights of workers were not violated during its construction. However, it is not entirely clear how Formula 1 was able to verify this. Working conditions for migrant workers are poor. Their passports are often confiscated, their wages are delayed, and they are forced to do forced labour. The employer has a great deal of power over his employees, which means that migrant workers are effectively at the mercy of their employers.

the organization GrantLiberty It was calculated that the Saudi authorities paid about 570 million euros for a 10-year contract with Formula 1.

Since 2020, the Dakar Rally has also been held in Saudi Arabia. The drivers drove the car just a few hundred meters from the prison where prominent human rights defender Loujain Al Hathloul was being held. She fought for women’s right to drive. When this was finally allowed, she disappeared behind bars.

Acquisition of British Football Club

In the United Kingdom, the Saudi investment fund, the Public Investment Fund, acquired Newcastle United Football Club. Costs: about 350 million euros. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman chairs this fund. With its acquisition of Newcastle United, Saudi Arabia became the owner of a top-tier football club of great stature.

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These are just a few examples of how Saudi authorities hope to hide the poor human rights situation in the country.

Ahead of the World Cup qualifying tournament in Iceland, the German national football team draws attention to respect for human rights

Athletes have a responsibility

Amnesty International points out that athletes have an important platform. Many countries are sensitive to their public and international reputation. Amnesty International encourages athletes to speak out about human rights. That could certainly have an impact. At the same time, Amnesty International calls on athletes to be well aware of where they are going, to be decisive, and to see what they can do and do while remaining safe. Athletes sometimes refer to the organization behind the sports tournament that has chosen the host country. However, this should not be a reason not to speak out about human rights violations.

Two of the best golfers did. Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy Due to human rights violations in the country, he rejected an offer to play in Saudi Arabia for €2.2 million. And also a prominent golfer Tiger wood He refused a large sum of money, 2.9 million euros. He was referring to the killing and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

Amber Webster

 "Freelance zombie fanatic. Devoted web advocate. Analyst. Writer. Coffee fanatic. Travelaholic. Proud food aficionado."

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