Saudis try sportswashing for image rehab

Sports have long been used as a way to polish a nation’s image. PHOTO: Al Nasr Saudi Club
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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia currently ranks as the world’s third largest oil producer. It is also the largest and least democratic country in the Middle East. The royal family’s current shopping spree on sports like golf, tennis and soccer is an attempt to improve its international image and divert attention from human rights violations and assassinations.

The house of Saud’s attempts to “clean up” the Kingdom’s international image by spending billions on sports events and professional leagues stands against the backdrop of a country that executed almost 200 people last year. Saudi leaders likely ordered the 2018 execution of Washington Post journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Writers call it “sportswashing,” using sports to enhance the country’s image around the world. Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman’s reply, “I don’t care.”

Bin Salman also launched the program Sports Vision 230 in 2016 to weaken the influence of oil on the Saudi economy. Oil represents 40% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. At the forefront of this attempt is LIV — a worldwide professional golf league that competes with the male PGA, with higher prize money — an overall total of $405 million in U.S. dollars — that has many top golfers jumping to LIV.

There’s also talk of the Saudis starting a similar tennis league. This year, a date has yet to be announced for a one-off event — 6 Kings Slam — among six of the top male players. Rumors have the winner receiving $6 million, more than the $2.5 million for the Wimbledon champion.

The Saudis also host yearly Formula 1 Grand Prix races and World Wrestling Entertainment matches. One of the top soccer players in the world — Cristiano Rinaldo — has signed with the Saudi soccer team in Riyadh.

Pro golfer Phil Mickelson probably sums up the attitude of many athletes. He admits that the Saudi government has done evil things, but says the LIV is good for golf.

Or at least good for male athletes.

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