Salem Alketbi

Saudi sports deals: prestige or strategy?

الاحد - 18 يونيو 2023

Sun - 18 Jun 2023

Saudi Arabia’s rapid developmental progress has caught the world’s eye, and it’s not just limited to one sector. Instead, it’s a comprehensive plan that’s reshaping life and putting the Kingdom on the brink of a new chapter.

One of the hot topics, especially in the media, is the ongoing transformation in the Saudi sports sector. They’re bringing in celebrity athletes, making lucrative deals that attract global attention. These deals involve big money and aim to bolster the Kingdom’s football league.

One of the interests in Arab social media revolves around the feasibility of these deals. While understandable, what’s striking is that most discussions overlook the bigger picture. It’s not just about grabbing attention, as many think. There are meticulous considerations at play, some related to sports, but mostly tied to politics, media, and marketing. It goes beyond sports and encompasses the remarkable strides the Kingdom is making.

This brings to mind the concept of “reputation laundering” or “sportswashing,” as some Western media reports suggest. However, these conclusions are isolated and fail to grasp the broader context, as mentioned earlier.

In response to the Kingdom’s evolving landscape, especially the changing population dynamics, a strategic and conscious approach is taken. The youth are becoming more educated, and more Saudis are venturing out as tourists. This calls for the creation of job opportunities, expansion of promising sectors, and investment in entertainment, culture, arts, and sports.

All of these align with the objectives of the Quality of Life Program initiated in 2018. Its aim is to introduce new options that enhance the engagement of citizens, residents, and visitors in cultural, entertainment, and sports activities. This, in turn, contributes to job creation, economic diversification, and elevating Saudi cities to international standards. At the core is a comprehensive qualitative transformation that strives for a significant leap in all areas of development. To achieve this, investment in Saudi human resources is prioritized.

The idea of big player deals, while significant, is just the tip of the iceberg compared to the broader and deeper changes happening in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These deals don’t appear to be separate from the overall rapid development occurring.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia doesn’t spend such colossal amounts for a goal that could be achieved through alternative and cheaper methods. Those involved in public relations and its activities are well aware of this reality. Thus, there’s a genuine strategic objective being implemented on the ground.

Moreover, these kinds of deals are happening worldwide. Football has transformed into a massive industry and economy, fueled by a highly professional investment mindset, whether it’s in the Kingdom or in other countries across the globe.

In my opinion, it’s not just about promoting new mental images and establishing a new global brand image for the Kingdom, although it plays a vital role in the ongoing development process. It’s also about instilling new ways of thinking among the younger generations in the Kingdom and creating new driving forces for development across various sectors. It covers everything that contributes to bolstering the Kingdom’s global influence, including its soft power, where sports, arts, and culture play a key role.

The Saudi national football team showed a different face at the recent FIFA World Cup in Qatar, reflecting a strategic reorientation away from mere presence and participation to striving to compete with the giants in sports, as well as in areas such as economy, politics, sciences, technology, industry, arts, culture, and more. That’s a qualitative leap forward.

In my opinion, To appreciate what’s taking place, we must avoid compartmentalizing the different aspects, whether it’s sports, arts, or culture. They shouldn’t be seen in isolation from one another or from the broader context of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s comprehensive developmental advancements.

These advancements are carried out under the framework of Vision 2030, which influences every aspect of daily life in the country at present. It’s a phase where the Saudi individual takes center stage as the most prominent feature and the driving force behind it all. It’s also one of the primary objectives.

The world now witnesses the emergence of Saudi youth in various realms of life, and those who follow digital media can clearly see how the pace of change in Saudi Arabia is remarkably accelerating. It becomes challenging to keep up, especially in areas like media and its technologies.

In the fields of medicine, health, science, industry, tourism, and investments, life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is experiencing a remarkable transformation. Football is no exception to the changes happening in the country. However, it may not keep up with the same pace as other sectors. So, achieving the goals of Vision 2030 requires such carefully calculated speed. The young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman keeps careful watch on the high expectations and ambitions that require careful work and leaps beyond traditional constraints.

Avant-garde ideas are not new to the Saudi mindset in general. The Kingdom didn’t emerge out of nowhere; it is reclaiming its past and continuing its civilizational journey. What we witness in culture and sports serves as evidence of that.