Football, a new showcase for Saudi Arabia’s “soft power”

In terms of promotional poster for Saudi Arabia, hard to do better. Thursday January 19, at 6 p.m., Paris-Saint-Germain (PSG), led by Lionel Messi, beat (5-4) a selection of players from two clubs in the capital of the kingdom, Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr , at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh. This exhibition match took on an unexpected resonance with the reunion between the Argentinian, seven-time Ballon d’Or and recently crowned world champion in Qatar, and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, five-time winner of the trophy for the best footballer in the world. ‘year.

It has been more than two years since the two attackers – scorers in Thursday’s match – whose rivalry punctuated the world of football from 2009 to 2018, had not challenged each other on a pitch. This meeting could be one of their last face-to-face. It was close, because it was to be held a year ago, before being postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the time, Cristiano Ronaldo still wore the colors of Manchester United. His signature, at the end of December 2022, in Al-Nassr – with a pharaonic contract at stake – marks the last major coup for the kingdom in its strategy of outreach through sport. “I have no doubt that his arrival will improve our league and benefit the Saudi football ecosystem in the long term.”rejoices with the World Yasser Al Misehal, the president of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF).

Carve out a place on the world football map

By securing the services of one of the best players of his generation, the country “Buy a jewel, a personality that has something sacred in the eyes of sports players”summarizes Raphaël Le Magoariec, specialist in the geopolitics of sport in the Gulf countries at the University of Tours.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers The Saudis, surprise “ambients” of the World Cup

With a view to organizing the World Cup in 2030, when a joint candidacy with Egypt and Greece is regularly mentioned? “There is no doubt that it would be the ultimate honor and privilege. And we believe we have many of the qualities and values ​​needed to host the tournament, from the passionate supporters, to the infrastructure, to the desire to open up our country and bring people together. However, no decision has been made. explains the boss of the SAFF.

In October 2021, the sovereign wealth fund of the kingdom (PIF) acquired 80% of the shares of the Newcastle club

Cristiano Ronaldo plays a key role in Saudi Arabia’s bid to earn a place on the world football map. “There are also other elements that come into play, in particular Newcastle, the capture of a club to legitimize themselves on an international scale”, recalls Mr. Le Magoariec. In October 2021, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign wealth fund of the kingdom, acquired 80% of the shares of the English club. The Magpies, in nineteenth and penultimate place in the highly watched Premier League at the time of the takeover, now rival the best teams in the United Kingdom.

You have 66.59% of this article left to read. The following is for subscribers only.

Football, a new showcase for Saudi Arabia’s “soft power”