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Saudi Arabia’s dive into sports is a major loss

For too many athletes, the focus is on money and not winning

It is no secret that for the majority of the nation’s history, Saudi Arabia has not performed well in sports. 

While the Round-of-16 in 1994’s FIFA World Cup is the farthest it has ever gone in the tournament, the nation also has a total of 4 Olympic medals, none of which are gold.

Since Saudi Arabia has had a hard time growing talent on its own, the nation has instead decided to buy it, most notably in the sports of golf and world football (soccer). 

The quick sportswashing that Saudi Arabia has done in the recent past has damaged the competitiveness and integrity of sports all around the world.

The nation’s Public Investment Fund (or PIF) has been the overall source of money for these two leagues, approving a spending value of over $2 Billion USD in order to grow the LIV Golf league and the Roshn Saudi League (Soccer). 

And, on Nov. 2, Saudi Arabia was elected to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup.

The bigger controversy seemed to come from how the nation has overtaken world football. Over the last year, the Saudi Pro League has spent over $1 Billion USD acquiring footballers from Europe’s top five leagues. 

True sports fans (such as myself) are worried that big-name players are joining Saudi-Arabian sides and are sacrificing competitiveness for money. Others have been arguing that players who go to the RSL Pro League are still competing for top trophies because new and more-experienced players are now in the region. 

Over the summer, four Liverpool (the English football club with the richest history) legends have accepted deals to play in Saudi Arabia. This includes players like Fabinho, Roberto Firminho, Sadio Mane, and the club’s former captain Jordan Henderson. I believe that the ONLY reason people are choosing to play in Saudi Arabia is because of the salaries and wages. Laughably so, Saudi side Al-Ettifaq played a match with less than 1,000 fans in attendance.

Who wouldn’t take the money? The problem is that trophies and competitions in Saudi Arabia are not recognized by FIFA. Competition in the region is not high enough for players to truly be evaluated. 

This is clearly ruining players’ legacies in both golf and world football. I believe that any player who decides to play for a Saudi-Arabian club is not someone anyone should look up to. Young and aspiring sports fans dream about winning “the big game” or hoisting “the big trophy,” not cashing in the bigger paycheck. 

Most recently, the nation has won the bid for and will host the 2034 FIFA World Cup. At first glance, this does not seem like an issue at all, given the success of Qatar’s FIFA World Cup of last year, proving that big tournaments can be successful in the Middle East; however, the nation had been heavily competing with Australia to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup until Australia dropped out of the bid on the final day. 

But the main controversy may have to do with the region itself. Saudi Arabia has been synonymous with dicey choices of human rights. Unsurprisingly, the nation has human rights organizations banned under its Law on Associations. This means that no action can possibly be taken against the current laws that prohibit freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and divorce (even in extreme or violent situations). The worry is that players and leagues bought by Saudi Arabia will no longer be able to be safe or worthy of the public eye.

Former Liverpool and English National Football captain Jordan Henderson was known for more than being a stellar footballer. Henderson was known as a big activist for the LGBT community, and stated that he has many friends and family members part of the community as well. The English captain was bought by Saudi side Al-Ettifaq in Summer of 2023. Members of the LGBT community felt understandably betrayed, as identifying LGBT is punishable through incarceration or death in Saudi Arabia. Henderson denied that his support for the LGBT community has ended, but has not even mentioned the group since his move to Saudi Arabia in the summer. 

Saudi Arabia has done a quick job of damaging the integrity of players, established leagues, and competitions around the world. Players who have made the decision to play in Saudi Arabia have given up opportunities to play at the highest level, be considered “Idols” and advocate for what they believe is right. 

Saudi Arabia needs to focus on long term solutions that don’t compromise the competitiveness of other leagues. Saudi Arabia needs to focus on creating talent from young Saudi players, and make a name for themselves, rather than damaging the names of others. 

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About the Contributor
Ky Miller
Ky Miller, Reporter
Ky Miller is a senior at DPHS. Ky was born in American Fork, Utah. Ky likes to do things such as play soccer, create art, play the guitar, and hang out with his friends. He also enjoys traveling and eating foods from Europe and South America. Ky hopes to one day inspire the world through his art.

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