Why Are So Many Footballers & Other Sports Stars Moving to Saudi Arabia?

Women In Saudi Arabia Now Allowed To Join The Military

Women In Saudi Arabia Now Allowed To Join The Military. image: twitter

The story of this summer already has been the waves PIF and Saudi Arabia are making in the transfer market signing some of Europe’s top players on huge money and their massive merger of LIV Golf and the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.

PIF – who have an 80% stake in Newcastle United – have taken control of four clubs in the Saudi Pro League meaning that they now have a near Monopoly and also an incredible pulling power when it comes to transfers.

Cristiano Ronaldo was the first player to make the switch earlier this year when he was clearly not needed by Erik ten Hag at Manchester United, and they certainly performed better without the former Balon d’Or winner.

However, he has since been followed by his former teammate Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Hakim Ziyech and Ruben Neves to just name a few, as well as a whole load of other Chelsea players set to make the move to the Middle East.

While a lot of these players are heading into the twilight years of their careers and money is the first thing on their minds to ensure their families and children are set up for life, the Saudi Arabian government are looking out for themselves.

Saudi Arabia looking to run Middle East football

With the 2030 vision on the horizon, Saudi Arabia made the plunge into football by purchasing Newcastle United but didn’t settle there as they set up the controversial LIV Golf series which stole a load of the world’s best players to participate in a Saudi Arabian circuit and now the Saudi Pro League is their next step.

Given that Saudi Arabia relies heavily on the sale of oil that they find – such is what made a lot of the Middle East wealthy in this modern world – PIF is now working on ensuring they have a different way of keeping up their huge income into their economy and sport is going to play a huge part in that.

PIF keen to flex their financial muscles

Therefore, recruiting some of Europe’s top players that are known as global superstars is one way to attract tourists to the country and get people coming over to watch football matches from regional countries on football holidays and also produce cutting-edge live game broadcasts with top-notch talent and production values which they will no doubt find strong markets for, even if it does come at a cost initially. The country offers the very best infrastructure and standard of living and the salaries are unrivalled for players.

Teams like Arsenal, Liverpool and even Man United just cannot compete. Interestingly Chelsea might be able to compete as there are reports that some of the money used to finance Todd Boehly’s consortium’s successful bid which sealed the deal actually came from Saudi investors.

What does the PIF own right now

This would mean that along with owning FOUR Saudi Pro League teams, the Saudis would also own Newcastle United outright they would also wield significant sway at Stamford Bridge which some people are suggesting is just too much. There has been suggestions that the fact that N’Golo Kante and in the past few days Hakim Ziyech, Romelu Lukaku and Edouard Mendy have all been linked with big-money moves to the Saudi League.

This has some believing this is a smart way for Chelsea to avoid the Financial Fair Play regulations and many fans feel it is ruining the game and starting to put them off because of the sheer nature of the money and commercial activity going at such high stakes at their clubs. Bottom line as long as there are no conflict of interests and these deals go through then what have Chelsea done wrong is what they will argue. As things stand no deals are confirmed regarding the players mentioned at the time of writing

City have had their issues with FFP

City took their most recent FFP case(s) to the Arbitration For Sport in Switzerland and they were exonerated on all charges making a mockery of the system and the prosecutors who brought the case in the first place. When it comes to working the angles, it is fair to say Manchester City’s transfer approach has been pushing the envelope but they have appealed successfully and always been vindicated when charged as they like other clubs Manchester United, Everton, Aston Villa and Arsenal have maximised their options to give the optimum bang for their buck and it’s only natural this may test some boundaries of the FFP but this is normal in business.

For the record, it’s quite likely based on history that City will beat the current slew of charges brought by the Premier League as City are a serious operation with top professionals working for them and they will be prepared for this. Even some Chelsea fans will feel some compassion for what City are going through as at a time when the entire focus should be on Guardiola, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Haaland, Walker et al for their stunning treble-winning campaign and their accomplishments on the field are still slightly tainted by the Premier League’s at best ill-timed charges and at worst charges which could well be proved to be false and are all dismissed.

Chelsea transfer news young Frenchman confirmed as 1st signing under Poch

On a positive tip away from the PIF story, Chelsea did make a great move on Wednesday by signing RP Leipzig’s creative goal scoring forward Christophe Nkunku on a deal worth a reported £53Million. The Chelsea Official site confirmed the signing of a player who the Chelsea faithful will enjoy watching. In 119 games he has scored 37 goals which is impressive enough at almost a goal every 3 games but the French international assisted 13 goals in 34 league games plus adding 20 goals in the 20/21 season.

This shows the French international is a prolific playmaker enjoying setting up his teammates as much as scoring himself which is just the type of team player the new manager will be building his squad around. Nkunku is not unlike Harry Kane in that regard, a player who flourished under Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs and Nkunku could develop into something really special as he is truly gifted. He bagged 16 goals in 2022/23 to be Leipzig’s joint top scorer as they retained the German Cup.

What does the future hold

Many critics say Saudi Arabia are moving into the field of “sportwashing” with their immense sovereign fund allowing them to buy Newcastle United, own 4 Saudi Pro League teams, successfully launching LIV Golf with its eye-wateringly large tournament prize funds not to mention the player signing fees (apparently Tiger Woods was rumoured to have been offered almost $1Billion to play) plus the ownership of Chelsea recently visited the Kingdom where there is known to be investors in the Boehly led consortium.

According to many media outlets the Saudis are simply trying to distance themselves from their poor human rights records, treatment of females and some truly reprehensible actions. Many countries if you look back in history have used sport as a means of trying to heal their country and it does not make any issue faced by some Saudi people any less serious but the perception with sport seems to be a positive one by association.

The question is can you blame a country for trying to improve the quality of events available to their people by producing high profile quality events like the Anthony Joshua Heavyweight Boxing title fights as well as showing their country to the world in a more positive light hoping to also show how important it is perceived well.

Other companies and sports doing business with Saudi Arabia

Rory McIlroy who has made no secret of his feelings towards LIV Golf even recently saying at the Canadian Open “I hate it…” but went onto say that long-term it is likely a good thing as the future of golf looks bright and has been “secured” by LIV. Greg Norman’s LIV Golf Tour divided golf last summer until the recent shock announcement that the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) and LIV Golf are all merging.

The PGA tour have done a total 180-degree turn now revealing of wanting to partner with PIF who clearly have demonstrated that they mean business, have a good product and the talent to make it relevant. So rather than going through a lengthy and very costly and uncertain legal proceeding with no guarantees against opponents who have the resources to fight indefinitely in the courtroom, the PGA and company decided to take the Saudis on as partners rather than adversaries.

It’s easy to see why many football fans are against Saudi Arabia getting a strong foothold in football but little do many football fans know that numerous companies who work with and sometimes sponsor their clubs do business with many Saudi Arabian companies. Many golf tournaments are sponsored by many companies who do serious commerce with the Saudi’s. Aramaco is the national petroleum refineries company and is a Saudi Arabian state owned corporation.

Aramco and the PIF (Public Investment Fund) underwrite 6 events on the LPGA Tour this year and are a big reason why the average purse for women golfers has taken a big leap forward in making playing golf professionally a popular goal for young female athletes. Let’s not forget that Aramco are also a huge sponsor of F1 and are always featured heavily in the sponsorship areas at the tracks around the world.

What effect will these sports competitions and sporting events have

So the Saudis are certainly getting involved in developing sport and they are by no means a perfect country when it comes to inclusion and human rights. It cannot be forgotten that atrocities have happened but there was a time when many of the bigger nations did not exactly cover themselves in glory either with some less than humane treatment of people. The USA and UK governments are perfectly happy to sell arms to Saudi Arabia so it would be rich if they chose to get involved.

Inclusivity is clearly something that needs addressing in a much bigger way in many countries with the Kingdom no exception to that their current tourism campaign suggests a country really looking to be a more open society but it is only that – a campaign – but you have to start somewhere. These things take time. Sports players often lead the way by starting to play sport in countries as Sri Lanka’s cricket team demonstrated as they returned to Pakistan after suffering a serious attack on their team bus and they were the first team to go back to Pakistan after over 10 years. This gave other coubtries confidence and Australia, England and New Zealand have since played in Pakistan again now.

Sports men and women should be able to make their own decisions

If people do visit Saudi and enjoy it the world will get around and that is the best way for change to happen. At some point, sports in Saudi Arabia will be taken at face value as the events and products they are developing are so far proving to be successful from a commercial point of view and are exposing the people to the joy of live sport which is generally nothing but a good thing. History shows that things are forgiven eventually (rightly or wrongly) but will never be forgotten just look at the atrocities of Apartheid in South Africa and Britain’s partition of India and Pakistan – the list goes on and on.

The important thing for the human race is to learn from the pain and devastation caused by these atrocities to so many families and to move on. We need to learn from history otherwise we are doomed to repeat it. Sports can certainly play a role with men and women as it can educate and influence the Saudi youth population in a positive way through sporting competition at the highest level. The pen is mightier than the sword so let’s use it to communicate and avoid bloodshed and encourage empathetic dialogue, direct communication and a commitment to learn about one another and show understanding as there is only one race and that’s the human race.

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Written by

Aaron Hindhaugh

Qualified and experienced journalist covering all aspects of news and sport. Specialist in both Men's and Women's football with increasing coverage of golf and tennis.