Saudis send­ing money down the drain with their charm of­fen­sive

King­dom’s re­cent in­vest­ment in box­ing, wrestling and horse rac­ing can­not mask abuse of hu­man rights or mur­der of a jour­nal­ist

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Football -

The 50 wrestlers who con­tested the “Great­est Royal Rum­ble” in Saudi Ara­bia last year went home happy. So did the golfers after a “Euro­pean Tour” event. The fight­ers An­thony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jnr will also leave con­vinced of the King­dom’s charms. The rest of us will take a lot more per­suad­ing.

Saudi Ara­bia’s launch at Lon­don’s Fort­num and Ma­son this week of the world’s rich­est horse race – the $20mil­lion (£16mil­lion) Saudi Cup in Fe­bru­ary – ought to have come with a Three Li­ons style chant: “It’s com­ing home, it’s com­ing home, the horse is com­ing home.” The blurb points out the Dar­ley Ara­bian stal­lion ac­counts for “19 in ev­ery 20 thor­ough­breds”, and is the pro­gen­i­tor, 24 gen­er­a­tions re­moved, of the won­der­ful En­able, who will en­deav­our next month to win a third Prix de l’arc de Tri­om­phe.

En­able’s owner, Khalid Ab­dul­lah, is a Saudi prince who also bred Frankel and Danc­ing Brave. British rac­ing is in­ex­tri­ca­bly fed by the petrodol­lars of Mid­dle Eastern po­ten­tates. Without them, Flat rac­ing would fall in a heap.

So, you can see why the rac­ing in­dus­try might be tempted to chase more loot in Riyadh, even as Saudi oil fa­cil­i­ties burn, Ye­men suf­fers and egre­gious hu­man rights abuses con­tinue in the land that will also stage the Joshua-ruiz re­match in De­cem­ber.

Where the line falls on who and who should not be al­lowed to stage big sport­ing events has never been re­solved. The idea that Bri­tain can sell killing ma­chines to the House of Saud while lec­tur­ing golfers, box­ers and jock­eys who go there would not stand much scru­tiny.

But we can at least drop the fawn­ing along with the pre­tence that this is all about so­cial re­form in Saudi and spread­ing the “values” of sport in a land where, ac­cord­ing to Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, 37 peo­ple were ex­e­cuted in a sin­gle day in April. Saudi can spend all the money it likes on sport, but it can­not buy our en­gage­ment, be­yond the sim­ple fact of want­ing to know whether Joshua re­gained his world heavy­weight ti­tles.

Prince Ban­dar bin Khalid Al Faisal, the Jockey Club of Saudi Ara­bia chair­man, is ask­ing us to sus­pend our crit­i­cal fac­ul­ties when he says of the Saudi Cup su­per­mar­ket dash: “It def­i­nitely falls in line with the kind of ac­tiv­i­ties that are now open­ing up the King­dom of Saudi Ara­bia and its peo­ple and cul­ture to peo­ple from all over the world, so that they can come and ex­pe­ri­ence the coun­try first-hand and have the op­por­tu­nity to see a part of the world that has not been vis­ited as of­ten as we would like. We will also be pro­vid­ing pro­grammes and pack­ages for peo­ple who wish to tour Saudi Ara­bia, whether it is for the ar­chae­ol­ogy, for na­ture, or the seas, deserts or moun­tains – we have ev­ery­thing ac­counted for.”

The glee in the eyes of those with most to gain af­firms sport’s will­ing­ness not even to think about the as­sas­si­na­tion of the jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi, or the jail­ing of women’s-rights de­fend­ers. As the

ahead of com­merce. Rais­ing De Gea’s salary is much cheaper than hav­ing to buy a new keeper when his ex­ist­ing con­tract ex­pires next sum­mer.

Equally, it fol­lows a pat­tern of United hav­ing to over­spend to cor­rect past er­rors (mis­takes, which pri­vately they ad­mit to). Alexis Sanchez, who is paid even more than De Gea, was a dis­as­trous sign­ing who is now be­ing sub­sidised to play for an­other club. Harry Maguire is an

ex­cel­lent cen­tre-back and just the sort of per­son United need to be sign­ing. His £80 mil­lion fee, how­ever, came with an­other er­ror-cor­rec­tion pre­mium.

Clubs who make bad de­ci­sions year after year take a long time to put them right. Slowly, ex­pen­sively, United’s own­ers are re­al­is­ing that without a well-run and suc­cess­ful first-team op­er­a­tion, the com­mer­cial jug­ger­naut is head­ing for a cliff.

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