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How Saudi Arabian oil magnates are changing the face of world football

The Saudi Arabian big influence in today’s football didn’t just start. Over the years, the country has invested in not just the round leather game but also Golf, boxing and the F1.

However, in the past one year or so, Saudi Arabia has been making waves in the world of football with its ambitious plans to increase its influence in the sport. The kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is offering huge paydays to some of the sport’s biggest stars if they join the Saudi Soccer League.

According to the Saudi Arabia Football Association (SAFF) the Saudi league is not aiming to be an equal of century-old competitions like England’s Premier League or other top European competitions, but to increase Saudi influence in the sport, engage a rapidly growing and young population, embark on an unprecedented modernization programme and perhaps boost its profile as it bids for the 2030 World Cup.

In the past few years, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, took over four big domestic clubs: the Riyadh-based Al Nassr and Al Hilal, and the Jeddah-based Al Ittihad and Al Ahli

The privatisation plan, Newspread gathered, was centred on football clubs, allowing companies and development agencies to invest in and take over clubs.

The Saudi magnates’ efforts as felt around the world, are already bearing fruit, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and N’Golo Kante among the stars already signed to Saudi Arabian league. The Saudi Pro League is also seeking to sign top talents in soccer this summer, with Mohamed Salah, Romelu Lukaku, and Ruben Neves, Wilfried Zaha, Kalidou Koulibaly, Thomas Partey, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Angel Di Maria, Roberto Firmino, and Ilkay Gundogan among the players linked to a possible move to Saudi Arabia.

Interestingly, unlike the Premier League and other European teams, Saudi clubs are not bound by UEFA’s rules on spending, meaning there is no limit to the salaries the PIF can offer to attract top players to the Middle East.

Meanwhile, as the country continue in its quest to dominate the football scene, there has been accusations of “sportswashing” due to Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record. It is no hidden secret that the nation has a terrible human rights record, homosexuality is illegal, and there are severe restrictions on freedom of speech and women’s rights.

Many have argued that Saudi Arabia’s investment in football could have significant implications for the balance of power in the sport globally. For instance, they claim it could lead to a shift in the balance of power in the region, with the Saudi league becoming the dominant domestic competition in Asia. Also, it is said that it could also attract footballers from neighbouring countries, leading to a redistribution of talent in the region.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s investment could lead to the country monopolising commercial deals in the region, by further increasing its influence in the sport and of course, bringing an increase to tourism in their country.

In truth, the league is attracting some of the sport’s biggest stars but it remains to be seen how the league will fare in the coming years.

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