Saudi Arabia expands its reach in the sporting world

Whether we like it or not, Saudi Arabia is an emerging sporting force and global too. Saudi are reportedly bidding for the World Cup in 2030, in a joint bid with Egypt and Greece.

The news of this has upset many, similar to how fans were upset when Russia and Qatar were given the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively.

Much has been made about the Kingdom’s human rights record, but to criticise Saudi implies others have room to talk, but they don’t.

From the US to the UK, these two nations do have blood on their hands and are from innocent as well as many of Europe’s other countries. Is Saudi perfect? No, of course not, no one is. But sports fans, Saudi has the right to host sporting events, just like Russia and Qatar did.

The sporting world which says it’s all-inclusive let itself down when it came to Qatar 2022. The critics of the Gulf state were fierce, but there were many tales of visiting fans being made to feel welcome and safe in the region.

Travelling women fans were made to feel safe and from an English fan’s perspective, not a single English fan was arrested at Qatar 2022.

Saudi Arabia, I have been reliably told is the same. My parents regularly visit the country and my twin brother has visited the region too, so that’s an authoritative viewpoint as far as I am concerned.

As mentioned in my piece about Qatar, is what I will mention about Saudi too, ladies and gents I am no politician, but I am a sports writer of nine years. In this article, my job is to fight Saudi’s corner regarding sports and its ability to host them.

There have been many critics sceptical of Saudi being a sporting superpower. Prince Salman, who is the crown prince and Prime Minister of the country has been on a mission to open Saudi Arabia’s doors to the West and the rest of the world as the country looks to open up other revenue streams.

So this has seen international singers do concerts in the country and it’s also seen big sporting events being held here. Events such as Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz and Amir Khan vs Billy Dibb as well as several football matches too.

Whether you like it or not sports fans, Saudi Arabia as a sporting force is already here and amongst us. The Supercoppa Italiana and Supercopa de Espana have been played in the country, these are the Italian and Spanish equivalents of the Community Shield match that’s played in England to start the domestic season.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is another sporting event to be added to a wide array of sporting events that are already in the country. If reports are to be believed then WWE has been sold to PIF, the same company that has an interest in English Premier League giants Newcastle United and owns them too.

If WWE being sold to the investment fund on the one hand makes sense, WWE’s Crown Jewel event was in Saudi of course. It’s one of the facts of life. Saudi Arabia is a country filled with wealth and the rest of the world will find it hard to turn down opportunities to grow financially.

Money makes the world go round. Boxing, football and horse racing have seen their sports reach out to new audiences. Human rights organisations will raise their concerns, but money comes above else. This is a harsh statement, but this has been shown to rule above all else.

Rory McIlroy did turn down the chance to play in an event in the country for morality reasons, but Rory, you won’t be working then if you truly decided to not go to places with questionable human rights records.

Golf did of course have a breakaway tournament in the country, but it proved very controversial. Snooker and horse racing have also been held in the country. The Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters in Riyadh is set to have a total fund of £ 2.5 million – with the top prize of £500,000 the same as the winner of the World Championship will receive.

That will take a strong man to turn that down. As handsomely as players at the top of world snooker are paid, I personally think lower-ranked players aren’t paid as well. Tournaments like the Saudi Arabian Masters offer that chance.

Sports fans, human rights are of course an important issue, there’s no denying this. You won’t like the facts, but Saudi Arabia is a growing sporting force. Al Nassr’s signing of Cristiano Ronaldo has only added power and strength to the Saudi Arabian League.

It will also add credibility to Saudi Arabia being a country that has plenty of power and strength in the sporting arena.

I say that based on the examples of the different sports that have events in the region. If Saudi does win the joint rights to host the 2030 World Cup, you will criticise it now, but just like with Qatar will you applaud it for how good of a tournament it will be.

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