Saudi Arabia has been eliminated from the World Cup, but remains unbeatable in sportswashing . English pun that alludes to laundering (whitewashing ) of despotic regimes like his through major sporting events.
The Saudis are not the only regional practitioners of this specialty, as the World Cup itself and other Qatari forays demonstrate.
But the facelift of monarchies with much to hide reaches new heights these days. Thus, Cristiano Ronaldo would be about to sign for Al Nassr, from Riyadh, for 200 million euros per season.
The Saudis do not hide their ambition to also incorporate Leo Messi into their league, who this year has already taken his first steps as a tourist ambassador for the country.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi, the last icons of western sports tempted by petrodollars
In fact, faced with the dilemma of buying Ronaldo or his former team, Manchester United, crude oil prices allow Saudi Arabia to fantasize about both at the same time.
The Saudi sovereign wealth fund already owns another English team, Newcastle, just as Qatar controls Paris Saint-Germain. Icons of European sport –as before the Barça or Real Madrid shirts– at the service of the sportswashing Arab.
It is true that the Saudi warm-up comes with some delay compared to the small Qatar, which has shown greater reflexes. But several of the most notorious events on the automobile or cycling calendar, golf or boxing, are already passing through Arabia. One of the regions of the world most adverse to physical activity, not to mention its clothing constraints.
The objective is the organization of an Olympic Games, starting in 2036, according to the prince who acts as Saudi Minister of Sports. The dress rehearsal will be the 2035 Asian Games. But first, in 2029, Saudi Arabia will host the Asian Winter Games.
If it is possible to ski in Dubai, indoors, the kingdom of the desert is not going to be less. So the futuristic Neom will be based in the mountains of Trojena. “I never imagined myself skiing in my country,” said Saudi skier Fayik Abdile. Likewise, a joint candidacy of Egypt, Greece and Saudi Arabia is proposed for the 2030 World Cup.
All this as a culmination of the opening to tourism -for three years- of a country that until then was content with the Muslim pilgrimage.
While Ronaldo and Messi defoliate the daisy, it should be remembered that dozens of Argentine players and hundreds of Brazilians and Africans have preceded them. Up to seven per team.
In the case of the Qatari team, there is not only mercenaries on the bench, but also in the stands, arrived from Lebanon with everything paid to put on the maroon shirt and cheer.
There are those who say that what they invest in stadiums will not be spent on fighters or frigates (from Navantia, which this week delivers the third, Arabia has just ordered five ships per month). For others, this sportswashing cover up the bombing of Yemen
This week, as Amnesty International and British NGOs railed against Qatar, former Prime Minister Theresa May was speaking in Riyadh. As long as gasoline continues to move cars, petrodollars will continue to move wills and agitate hobbies.