Mohammed bin Salman unfazed by 'sportswashing' accusations, denies Saudi rights violations

"If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by 1%, then we'll continue doing sportswashing," Mohammed Bin Salman said

By Web Desk
September 21, 2023
Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia during the G20 Summit in 2019. — AFP

Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia Thursday said he was not concerned over the accusations of "sportswashing" and denied that the kingdom was involved in any kind of violations of human or other rights.

The Gulf nation has been accused of using high-profile events to promote its brand abroad while also financing sports.

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Last year, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia oversaw the acquisition of Newcastle United and the beginning of LIV Golf.

"If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by 1%, then we'll continue doing sportswashing," Bin Salman said.

He told Fox News, "I don't care [about the term]. I have a 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%."

Last year, 81 men were executed in one day in Saudi Arabia.

The country has come under fire for its abuse of women's rights, limitations on free expression, and war in Yemen by many international rights organisations and collectives.

Human rights activists claim that the Saudi government uses sport as a diversion from its long-standing reputational problems.

Saudi authorities, however, deny these charges and assert that investing in sport is a crucial component of the "Vision 2030" policy.

Estimated assets of the nation's sovereign wealth fund total $620 billion (£550 billion).

Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the chairman of Newcastle, serves as the governor of the PIF, which is under Bin Salman's supervision.

Amnesty International stated at the time of its release that the Premier League club's green and white third shirt from previous season was "clear evidence" of sportswashing because it resembled the Saudi Arabia national team uniform.

Saudi Arabia is set to submit a bid to host the World Cup in 2030 or 2034 after hosting the Club World Cup in December, which will be its first major Fifa event.

Due to Qatar's controversial views on same-sex couples, human rights record, and treatment of migrant workers, the country received negative press for hosting the event in 2022 by the International Community.

Four of Saudi Arabia's greatest clubs, Al-Ahli, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, and Al-Nassr, have been taken over by PIF. These clubs have recently brought in high-profile players like Cristiano Ronaldo and current Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema.

The PGA Tour and DP World Tour agreed to unite with PIF in June following a year of upheaval as a result of the lucrative LIV Golf series' arrival in 2022. Al-Rumayyan was chosen chair of the newly unified men's game.

Human rights organisations also condemned F1's choice to conduct its first race in Saudi Arabia in 2021 as part of a long-term agreement.

Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time world champion, urged Saudi Arabia to advance its human rights record before the 2022 Grand Prix after claiming he did not feel at ease competing there.

Boxing matches for world championships have also taken place in Saudi Arabia. After defeating Andy Ruiz in the kingdom's capital of Riyadh in 2019, Anthony Joshua declared that he was "here for boxing" before losing to Oleksandr Usyk in Jeddah the previous year.

After reaching an agreement for a five-year contract to host the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah, tennis will hold a professional event in Saudi Arabia for the first time this year.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia and the women's tour have discussed hosting the WTA Finals at the end of the season.

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