Messi vs Ronaldo: What the meeting of two legends tells us about the future of sports
In the run-up to the January 19 match between French champions Paris Saint Germain and Saudi Arabia’s All Stars in Riyadh, the alluring prospect of a match between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo naturally dominated.
But this friendly is yet another example of the growing influence of the Gulf countries on the sport, and goes far beyond the decision to host the exhibition match in Saudi Arabia.
Since 2011, PSG has been owned by Qatari investors linked to the country’s royal family, and the resulting infusion of cash has brought global superstars such as Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar to the club.
Ronaldo faced Saudi Arabia’s All-Stars as part of the 11 for his decision to sign a two-and-a-half-year contract with Saudi Arabian club Al-Nasr that will bring him more than $200 million (121 billion 295 million 570 thousand). FCFA).
One fan even paid $2.6 million (1,576,842,400 FCFA) at auction for a ticket to an exhibition match, underscoring the buying power that world soccer’s influence is increasingly shifting away from home: Europe and Latin America to the Middle East.
Regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, previously known for acquiring more traditional overseas assets such as properties and businesses, are increasingly interested in the sports industry, which experts see as a “soft power” diplomatic effort mixed with ambition. for the diversification of the economy.
PSG is not the only European club directly or indirectly controlled by Gulf countries.
The first purchased big team was “Manchester City” in 2008. The English Premier League team was bought by billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Emirati monarchy.
In recent years, the list has been expanded by the most controversial deal – the purchase of another English Premier League club, Newcastle United, by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund.
This operation caused controversy in Great Britain about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A critic of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he was killed in October 2018 on his way to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Western intelligence agencies believe the Saudi crown prince ordered the killing – a claim he has vehemently denied.
The takeover was only allowed if there were “legally binding assurances” that the Saudi state would not control the club.
In addition to taking part in the teams, the Gulf countries have also hosted important matches and signed major sponsorship deals.
Saudi Arabia has invested in promoting special editions of European soccer games, such as the Italian and Spanish Super Cups played in Riyadh.
Emirates, the national airline of the UAE, signed multi-million dollar sponsorship contracts with the giant Real Madrid and AC Milan clubs.
Major sporting events
Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 men’s World Cup is the most prominent example of the Gulf countries’ willingness to host major sporting events, but it is not the only one. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain will host the Formula 1 Grand Prix in the 2023 season.
Qatar has hosted world championships in various sports such as swimming, athletics and gymnastics.
Saudi Arabia has also hosted several high-profile boxing events and WWE wrestling events. There have even been rumors (heavily disputed) that the wrestling sports entertainment brand could be sold to a Saudi owner.
The Olympic Holy Grail
Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup – as many believe – should increase the likelihood of hosting other major sporting events in the Gulf.
Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering a joint bid with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup, and sports insiders believe Qatar’s capital Doha is ready to bid for the 2036 summer Olympics and Paralympics.
The city has already been nominated twice, but the excellent infrastructure and transport links on display at last year’s World Cup could give the Qataris a new trump card.
And don’t forget the Winter Olympics: last October, Saudi Arabia won the right to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games, which will be held in the new city of Neom worth 500 billion dollars (303 billion 238 billion 920 million FCFA). a ski resort located in the middle of the desert and planned for construction in 2026.
The huge oil and gas industries of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain have given them the financial means to compete at the highest level of global sports governance, but this has not led to criticism.
For example, Qatar has come under heavy criticism for its record on human rights, including labor rights and LGBT rights, ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
The country’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, said his country saw the scrutiny as disproportionate: “Since we won the honor of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has been subjected to a campaign the likes of which no other host country has ever seen. never met”.
However, if the criticism continues, the huge growth of Gulf countries playing a role in global sports will continue.