Sport and Soft Power: Saudi Arabia

This article is also available in: Italiano

Our series on Sport and Soft Power continues, this time we talk about Saudi Arabia and its recent mobilization in sports.

War to Qatar

The first big difference to make between this state and Qatar is related to the final goal, completely different for the two countries. Riyadh already exercises undisputed hegemony in the Arabian Peninsula and in much of the Middle East and this has meant that, compared to its neighbors, the strategies are completely different. In fact, Saudi soft power in sport was born as a sort of “reaction” to an increasingly constant Qatari media presence, especially in view of the World Cup.

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Turki Alalshikh with Vince McMahon and Paul Michael Levesque, the leaders of WWE

The exponential growth of Saudi investments in football and sport in general with the approach of 2022 is no coincidence. Riyadh sees the success of Doha as a real attack on its leadership and the enormous expenses are generated as a result. Under the minister of sport Turki Alalshikh the first results have already been seen, such as the WWE event held for the first time in the Kingdom this year, or the upcoming Italian Super Cup.

Mohammed bin Salman, the key

The key figure, however, is to be found in the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Since the latter’s rise to power, the Kingdom has changed a lot, returning ever stronger and more present on the international scene, both for merit and for infamy. The Khashoggi case and the war in Yemen had an incredible impact on public opinion and this prompted the prince to focus heavily on sport.

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Mohammed bin Salman

The model to follow is precisely that of the many hated rivals and it is no coincidence that at the end of October Mohammed bin Salman showed a very strong interest in Manchester United. At the moment, however, the football spotlight is on the upcoming Italian Super Cup, which will be played in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on January 16th.

Italy and the war

The complex balance of relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar could however touch the Bel Paese even before the cup. In fact, there are thousands of controversies in assigning this competition to the Saudis, both in human and economic terms. In fact, a very strong controversy has recently arisen over the broadcasting rights of European sport in Saudi Arabia.

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Turki Alalshikh with the leaders of Milan, Juventus and Serie A

The Saudi television channel beoutQ was in fact accused by beIN Sports, Qatari, of broadcasting the latter’s broadcasts in a systematic and pirate manner; a very heavy accusation that goes to connect with the enormous political crisis between the two countries. At the moment there has not yet been a verdict on the issue, but this could greatly influence our Serie A given the amount of money that each Doha spends to buy the rights.

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