Saudis want to create a positive buzz in sport ...who are we to judge?
SAUDI ARABIA has doubled down on its efforts to buy its way into mainstream sport over the past few weeks.
Not content with snapping up Premier League Newcastle United, staging Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title fights and causing chaos in the world of golf, they’ve now entered the realms of fantasy football.
At £200million apiece, the contracts handed out to ex-real Madrid strikers Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema were almost laughably extravagant
– as were those gifted to LIV rebels Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.
Even allowing for a cost of living crisis, the pantries in all of their houses should be full.
Forgive the levity because that’s about as light as it gets this week,
No nation state sponsors the purchase of a club the size of the Magpies without wanting eyeballs to be fixed upon them.
You don’t spend £270m on a giant Premier League football club to hide it under a bushel.
Nor do you sanction a further £200m splurge in the transfer market if you do not want to further improve its chances of success, heaping yet more prestige on your trophy asset.
The Saudis’ public investment fund wanted to create a positive buzz.
Boy, have they done that on Tyneside.
Unfortunately for them, with a free Press there are eyeballs the downside too.
And a sharp reminder of what’s at stake landed in my email in-tray this week. The press release from Amnesty
International was harrowing, deliberately so. It was meant to hurt.
And it did, hammering home the fact “sports-washing” isn’t just a nebulous concept where there are no victims.
The headline forced you to read on: “Saudi Arabia – the imminent execution of seven young men would violate kingdom’s promise to abolish death penalty for juveniles”.
Yeah, you read that right.
It continues: “Despite the Saudi authorities’ commitment to end their use of the death penalty against children under 18 at the age of the crime, seven young men are at risk of execution after an appeals court confirmed their punishment.”
Calling for an immediate halt, the pressure group said that six were arrested on “terrorism-related charges”, which amounted to protesting against the government following “torture-tainted confessions”.
You can read it yourself on Amnesty’s website in all its gory glory – there isn’t enough space on this page to detail it all. Your correspondent has always been consistent in his view that if the UK government says it will do business with Saudi Arabia, then the purchase of clubs such as Newcastle cannot – and should not – be blocked.
And that if they do, it enables the media – and the public – to shine lights on such incidents, perhaps affecting change.
FIFA have had to bend over backwards to do deals with European broadcasters to screen the Women’s World Cup.
Here’s an idea. Ensure you play the tournament in countries where there are going to be plenty of eyeballs on the games during the day – not in the early mornings when the majority of the games will be kicking off.