Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) visits the Hyderabad House Photo Courtesy of MEAphotogallery/Flickr
The Saudi Arabian Private Investment Fund is reportedly making more moves in the sports market, offering $20 billion to acquire Formula 1, the popular Indy-Car type racing company, according to a Bloomberg report.
This comes after a number of large moves made by the country, which include bringing soccer star Christiano Ronaldo to Saudi club al-Nassr and forming LIV golf, the counterpart and competitor of America’s popular PGA tour.
But why has the country taken such an aggressive approach to develop their sporting markets?
A recent report from Grant Liberty claims that the country is engaging in ‘sportswashing.’ For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘sportswashing’ is a form of propaganda in which organizations or governments attempt to use sports to bolster their reputations, trying to wash people’s negative perceptions or memories of wrongdoings associated with that organization/government. Most commonly, it is done by hosting large sporting events or purchasing teams.
The Saudi Arabian government has a recent history of corruption and human rights abuse. Many women’s rights activists have been imprisoned for speaking out against the state, specifically since the implementation of “Vision2030.” This is a long term plan released by Crown Prince Mohhamed bin Salman to transform the country’s economy. Rather than having the country be reliant on oil exports, Salam wants to develop the infrastructure of the country to promote tourism.
Unfortunately, “Vision2030” was also focused on enforcing restricting speech against the regime, and many women’s rights activists have been imprisoned as a result. In 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by a group of assassins. Prior to his murder, he spoke out against the state, criticizing the war on Yemen. Many speculated that Salman played a role in the killing of Khashoggi, but that was nothing more than speculation until a U.S. intelligence report was leaked in early 2021. This report found that Salman approved of the murder of Khashoggi, confirming the belief that many speculated.
“Saudi Arabia is trying to use the good reputation of the world’s best loved sports stars to obscure a human rights record of brutality, torture and murder,” says Lucy Rae, spokesperson Grant Liberty.
The leadership of the country denies the ‘sportswashing’ claims, saying this effort should promote tourism and help reach the countries hosting the Olympics.
Whether or not the country is conducting ‘sportswashing,’ the current landscape of sports as we know it could change with Saudi Arabia building their sports empire. Many deals have already been completed to bring popular American sports overseas, and there are constant rumors of what the next venture could be for the Saudi Arabian Private Investment fund. In the past week, it was rumored the PIF would be purchasing the WWE, a report that was later found to be false. The fund did make a 20 billion offer to Liberty Media with the hopes of acquiring Formula 1, but Liberty Media appears to be uninterested in selling the company that was recently purchased in 2017. It appears Saudi Arabia is making another aggressive approach to acquire a team or organization, it is speculative as to what that next venture may be.