Saudi Sports Blitz meets headwind analysis

Saudi Arabia’s sports blitz is facing headwinds.

Activists, athletes and the football associations of Australia and New Zealand will celebrate defeating plans by world football’s governing body FIFA to accept Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Authority as a sponsor of this year’s Women’s World Cup.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino admitted as much at a press conference called this week shortly after his re-election unopposed for a third term, though he dismissed it as “a storm in a teacup”.

Still, slowing down sent a rare message that money can buy a lot, but not everything.

It was the first setback in a series of successful Saudi bids to sponsor or host anything under the sporting sun.

Despite its vile and deteriorating human rights record, Saudi Arabia has secured the rights to host the Asian Football Confederation’s 2027 AFC Cup, the Olympic Council of Asia’s 2029 Asian Winter Games and the 2034 Asian Games.

A regional human rights group, ALQST for Human Rights, has claimed that at least 47 members of the Howeitat tribe in Saudi Arabia have been arrested for resisting eviction to make way for Neom, a futuristic sci-fi-like region valued at $500 billion, which is under development in Red Sea.

Trojena, a mountainous part of Neom, is the place where the Winter Games are scheduled to take place.

Saudi Arabia is also bidding to host the 2026 Asian Women’s Cup and the 2030 World Cup alongside Greece and Egypt.

The World Cup, like this year’s women’s tournament, is likely to cause headwind. Not only because it affects not one, but two of the world’s worst human rights abusers, but also because it will face stiff competition.

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A joint bid by Morocco, Spain and Portugal could prove a serious challenge to the Saudi-led effort on several fronts.

It represents a transcontinental bid which, unlike the Saudi-led proposal, does not seek to circumvent FIFA’s practice of spanning the tournament across continents.

Alone, Saudi Arabia as a country in the Middle East would have no chance so shortly after last year’s World Cup in Qatar.

The circumvention element is borne out by the Kingdom’s willingness to fund all of Greece’s and Egypt’s World Cup-related expenses in exchange for the right to host three-quarters of the tournament’s matches in Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, the Moroccan-Spanish-Portuguese bid is likely to generate less controversy than its Saudi-led competitor.

While Qatar has shown that human rights and migrant rights criticism need not seriously compromise the reputational benefits of hosting a sporting mega-event, it has also shown that once the center of attention, always the center of attention.

Three months after the World Cup final in Qatar, one million people signed a petition calling on the Gulf state to compensate workers and/or their families who were injured, died or suffered human rights abuses while working on tournament projects.

The surcharge would have a special meaning for Morocco. Due to his favorite status during the World Cup in Qatar, a win would mean payback for the Saudi opposition in Morocco’s failed efforts to secure the rights to host the 2026 tournament.

Saudi Arabia backed the US, Canada and Mexico’s successful bid to punish Morocco for its refusal to back Qatar’s 3.5-year diplomatic and economic boycott between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The boycott was lifted in early 2021.

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Perhaps the biggest headwind the kingdom’s esports effort has encountered comes from the controversial creation of LIV Golf, a $405 million, 14-tournament league to tie in with the PGA Tour, longtime organizer of the world’s flagship events Sports to compete.

LIV Golf is “a public relations exercise. A foreign government’s dollars are used to reinforce that government’s brand and positioning here in the United States,” said US Congressman Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas.

Worse, circumvention was the focus of a ruling by a US federal judge last month that ordered Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), to answer questions and provide evidence as part of the preliminary investigation into a lawsuit LIV and PGA. The PIF funds LIV Golf.

The discovery could shed a spotlight on the secret fund’s decision-making process. The fund’s powerful governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, is a cabinet-level official.

Judge Susan van Keulen’s decision dismissed an attempt by the PIF and Mr Al-Rumayyan to evade the disclosure of information related to the dispute in the courtroom because they allegedly enjoyed sovereign immunity as a state institution and official.

Earlier, US District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman, an avid golfer, ruled that the PIF and Mr Al-Rumayyan fell under a commercial exception to US state immunity laws.

Some analysts suggest that Mr. Roy’s comment and the judges’ rulings could result in LIV Golf being viewed as a campaign to influence foreign companies.

This would mean that its employees would have to register in the United States as foreign agents under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).

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The rulings call into question assurances given to the English Premier League in 2021 to address concerns that the PIF’s takeover of England’s Newcastle United Football Club would put it under the control of the Saudi state.

The league’s chief executive, Richard Masters, said at the time that the Premier League had been given “legally binding assurances that the state will not be essentially responsible for the club” and that we may “remove any evidence to the contrary”. the consortium as owners of the club.”

The league has so far refrained from confronting the PIF after the US decisions because the Newcastle Agreement stipulated that the Saudi state would not exercise control over Newcastle, not that it was unable to do so.

Newcastle lawyers said there would be only one case if the Saudi state used its power to interfere in the club’s affairs.

“There is an unmistakable irony in the sovereign wealth fund’s statement, which emerges in a dispute over another arm of Saudi Arabia’s growing sports empire, but the simple fact is that Saudi sports laundering affects numerous sports and governing bodies need to respond much more effectively, said Peter Frankental, an Amnesty International senior official.

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