New research has been published which details the extent and scale of Saudi Arabian state investment and involvement in sport for the first time.
The research has been published by Play the Game which is run by the Danish Institute for Sport Studies and details that it found 312 sponsorship deals across 21 sports, with football leading the way with 83 deals followed by motorsport with 34 deals and golf with 33.
The research believes that 139 of the deals are directly linked to the Public Investment Fund (PIF) which owns Newcastle United, LIV Golf and five of the top clubs in the Saudi Pro League. Sponsorship deals include with La Liga, International Cricket Council, Formula 1 and a number of boxing promoters.
Play the Game researcher Stanis Elsborg told BBC Sport “Saudi Arabia's sports strategy is run by a small group of individuals that hold important positions inside and outside sport at the same time. We wanted to show that these people engage in world politics on behalf of Saudi Arabia, both as representatives of the sports world but mainly as state representatives of the geo-political interests of Saudi Arabia.”
Many have criticised Saudi Arabia’s presence in sport as sportwashing as a way to detract from long standing human rights and environmental issues. 81 men were executed on one day last year - women's rights abuses, the criminalisation of homosexuality, the restriction of free speech and the war in Yemen.
Freddie Daley, from environmental campaign group Badvertising, said “Saudi Arabia's push into sport is a concerted, targeted and strategically astute effort for the country to bolster its standing on the world stage and leverage the soft power of sport. Daley said Saudi Arabia is a “country deeply dependent on fossil fuels” and that its “massive presence within sport” allows it to continue "promoting and normalising high-carbon products to billions of fans. This research shows how extensively global sport is becoming intertwined with Saudi investment and hosting the World Cup in 2034 is set to be the cherry on top.”