Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has proclaimed that he does not care about accusations of sportswashing. Bin Salman became his country’s de facto ruler in 2017. Since then, the billionaire has invested a fortune in sports. Most notably, bin Salman’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) bought a majority stake in Newcastle United in 2021. PIF also helped create the controversial LIV Golf in the same year.

Bin Salman made the nonchalant claims during a recent interview with Fox News. It was his first-ever full interview in English. “If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by 1%, then we’ll continue doing sportswashing,” proclaimed Bin Salman.

The Saudi official was then asked directly how he felt about the sportswashing term. “I don’t care [about the term]. I have 1% growth in GDP from sport and I am aiming for another 1.5%. Call it what you want – we are going to get that 1.5%.”

Massive money crucial to country’s success

Critics of PIF’s involvement in sports claim that the moves are made to distract from their human rights issues. The 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in particular, blocked Saudi Arabia from making many big moves. Other nations chose not to do business with the Saudis. Nevertheless, things have changed over the last few years. Money has been a key factor.

Saudi official defends sportswashing

Along with investing directly in teams and sports leagues, Saudi Arabia has also struck deals to bring certain competitions to the Middle Eastern nation. This includes hosting the 2023 FIFA Club World Cup and the 2029 Asian Games. Bin Salman admitted these deals help bring more tourism to the country.

“When you want to diversify an economy you have to work in all sectors: mining, infrastructure, manufacturing, transportation, logistics all this,” continued bin Salman. “Part of it is tourism and if you want to develop tourism part of it is culture, part of it is your sport sector, because you need to create a calendar.”

“We can see tourism used to contribute to Saudi GDP 3% now it’s 7%. Sport used to be 0.4% now it’s 1.5% so it’s economic growth it’s jobs, it’s a calendar, it’s entertainment, it’s tourism.”

As long as they are allowed to freely splash the cash, PIF seems here to stay. Other sporting events will soon be headed to Saudi Arabia as well. This includes boxing matches, tennis events and F1 races.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Russian Look