The Guardian on Sunday released the details of the Grant Liberty report, which is expected to be published later this week. It says the oil-rich nation has targeted every major global sporting event from chess championships to golf, tennis, horse-racing and wrestling, and spent at least $1.5 billion to bolster its tarnished image.
The report also says the kingdom has invested $60 million alone on the Saudi Cup, which is the world’s richest horse-racing event with prize money of $20 million.
It further says Saudi Arabia has struck a ten-year deal worth $650 million with Formula One motor racing championship, which will for the first time include a race in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.
The term “sportswash,” credited to 2015’s Sports or Rights campaign, is generally used when corrupt and tyrannical regimes make use of a high-profile sports event as a means to launder their reputation and/or gloss over their miserable records on human rights.
Grant Liberty’s analysis also includes a $6-million offer to professional footballers Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to be the face of Saudi Arabia’s tourism body Visit Saudi, and a controversial $400-million bid to take over English Premier League club Newcastle United. The deals, however, never came to fruition following an international outcry.
The Guardian said the Saudis’ bid to secure involvement in global sporting events includes spending $145 million in a three-year deal with the Spanish Football Association, $15 million in appearance fees for a single Saudi International men’s golf tournament, $33 million to host the Saudi Arabian Masters snooker tournament in the kingdom, and $100 million for the boxing match known as “Clash on the Dunes” between Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua in 2019.
The kingdom also sealed a $500-million 10-year deal with World Wrestling Entertainment in 2014.
Moreover, Saudis have entered pending bids for forthcoming events, including $200 million for the Tyson Fury vs Joshua boxing match, which is set to be staged later this year, and $180 million in sponsorship for Spanish professional football club Real Madrid through the tourism and entertainment megaproject Qiddiya in Riyadh, which is under the umbrella of the so-called Vision 2030.
“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,” Grant Liberty’s Lucy Rae said.
She said Saudi Arabia is “committing human rights abuses on an industrial scale.”
“The world’s leading sports stars might not have asked to be part of a cynical marketing plan to distract the world from the brutality – but that’s what is happening,” Rae added.
The Saudi regime has been under scrutiny for the crimes it has been committing against the Yemenis during the kingdom’s 2015-present military campaign.
The Saudi-led military aggression has left tens of thousands of Yemenis dead, and displaced millions of people. It has also destroyed Yemen’s infrastructure and spread famine and infectious diseases across the country.
The regime has also been notorious for the widespread crackdown campaign against opposition figures and activists both at home and abroad.
Amid the global outcry over the Yemen war, Riyadh’s image took a stinging blow by the state-sponsored murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018.