Critics criticized Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia for engaging in sportswashing when it was reported that the club was planning a $1.1 billion bid to sign French soccer star Kylian Mbappé. The deal would have paid $332 million to Mbappé’s current team, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), and the World Cup winner an eye-watering $775 million salary package for just one year.While Mbappé may have rejected the offer in July, Neymar Jr. accepted it a month later, allowing the Brazil international to leave PSG for an estimated $98.5 million (€90 million) in addition to add-ons.
According to Deloitte, Saudi Pro League (SPL) clubs broke transfer records this past winter by spending about $1 billion to sign 94 foreign players from major European leagues, including Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A, France’s Ligue 1, Spain’s La Liga, and the English Premier League.Saudi Arabia’s spending binge to transform its domestic soccer league into a star-studded, legitimate competition demonstrates the sincerity of the country’s goal, despite its dismal human rights record.Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, claims he doesn’t “care” if the nation’s investments in sports are referred to as “sportswashing.”
MBS stated in a Fox News interview that aired on Wednesday, “Well, if sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by one percent, then I will continue doing sportswashing.”
When asked if the use of the word affected him, MBS said, “I don’t care.” My GDP has grown by 1% because to sport, and I want to increase it by another 1.5 percent. Whatever you want to name it, we will receive that 1.5 percent.
The biggest names in sports have already made their way to Saudi clubs, some of which are now owned by the country’s sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF).
The SPL hopes to “drive competitiveness on and off the pitch” by bringing some of the biggest names in the world to the Gulf states, but it is quick to point out that these foreign players will aid in the development of “young Saudi talent.”Transfermarkt, a sports website, claims that these four teams are the most valuable in the nation because the government-controlled PIF enhanced their collective value by almost five times during this summer’s transfer season.
Many other elite players have enthusiastically accepted offers from the SPL. Most notably, 2022 Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, who will leave Real Madrid, the biggest soccer team in Spain, to sign a contract with Al-Ittihad.According to Transfermarkt data, the four PIF-owned teams spent almost $900 million (€835.1 million) as the European transfer window was coming to an end to acquire elite international players. This placed them in the top 20 clubs in the world by transfer expenditure, alongside soccer powerhouses from England, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy.Al Hilal was the second-biggest spender this year, having spent over $378 million (€353 million) on his own, surpassing both PSG and Arsenal.
The Saudi Pro League has gone on a spending spree
Saudi teams have signed players for over $1 billion this summer. During the current transfer window, the SPL surpassed two of the most prestigious soccer leagues in Europe, Germany’s Bundesliga and Spain’s La Liga, to become the second-biggest spender.
The recently signed players will play alongside five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, who signed a two-year contract with Al-Nassr and will reportedly earn an astounding $200 million annually, according to Saudi state-owned media. Ronaldo is presently the most paid soccer player in the world.
Currently, 21 of the world’s best soccer players, who fetch the highest transfer prices in Saudi Arabia, are employed by PIF-owned teams.The SPL is purposefully keeping quiet about the details of its financial risk despite the expense, with chief operations officer Carlo Nohra telling that disclosing player and coach pay was “not in [the SPL’s] competitive advantage.”As of its most recent report, the PIF managed $777 billion in assets, with plans to surpass $1 trillion in a few years. It purchased Newcastle United, an English soccer team, in 2021 before concentrating on domestic interests. The team is currently one of the biggest players’ spenders.