Following the merger of LIV and the PGA this week, Saudi Arabia’s ‘sportswashing’ has placed them as a large player in the world of sport.
That’s according to sportswriter Padraig Reidy, who coined the term sportswashing in 2015 when Azerbaijan hosted Formula One races, Champion League matches and the European Olympic Games, suspectedly to deter criticism on its human rights record.
Mr Reidy said Saudi Arabia appear to be following a similar tactic as the Professional Golfers’ Association has agreed to merge with Saudi-backed rival LIV Golf.
“This is a step up from any kind of sportswashing we've seen before,” he told On the Record with Gavan Reilly.
“We've seen countries and states and state investment funds try to make inroads into sports... but this this is this is essentially buying an entire global professional sport.”
Mr Reidy said while LIV not owned by the Saudi Arabian state, it is owned by the Saudi Arabian public investment fund, effectively meaning professional golf is going to be privatised under the control of the Saudi Arabian government.
“It's a good internal sell for them to say, ‘look at wonderful teams that were involved with’,” he said. “For the outside world, it raises serious questions.”
There is a growing trend in sports teams and organisations being acquired by authoritarian states, such as Saudi Arabia purchasing the Newcastle football team and private Qatari citizens in conversations to purchase Manchester United.
“Is this the way you want to win major trophies, by having an entire state’s purse behind you?” Mr Reidy said.
"They want prestige"
Mr Reidy said Saudi Arabia in particular are interested in buying these teams and organisations to maintain control over their own population.
“Saudis have a particular issue in that they have a very young, educated population,” he said. “It always spells trouble for any kind of authoritarian regime.”
“So, they've invested a huge amount... they want big events, they want prestige, they want their population entertained.
“They want it seen that their country and their regime is throughout the world.”
Transition from oil
Saudi Arabia are also seeking a future beyond oil, according to Mr Reidy.
“They need to start thinking post oil, ultimately,” he said. “The Saudi Public Investment Fund is not just about sports - they've also invested massively in video games industry and Uber.”
“These prestige industries, they hope, will see them through the trend of this essential global transition away from oil.”
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