The story behind Saudi Arabia’s football disrupted by big money

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“All roads lead to one man. Look at who announced it on national television.”

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, is on a one-man journey to transform how his nation is seen — both by the global community and by its own 35 million people.

It is infamous for a scourge of human rights abuses, including the criminalisation of homosexuality, severe restrictions on freedom of speech and women’s rights, and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. In combatting that reputation, plus appeasing a rapidly growing and youthful population, Bin Salman has alighted on sport — he views it as critical to solving that equation.

For example, government sources have indicated to The Athletic that Saudi Arabia is aiming to host 25 world championships across a number of sports by 2030. At the World Cup, football’s greatest stage, Bin Salman was conspicuous, attending matches, sitting next to Gianni Infantino, and announcing a national holiday after Saudi Arabia beat Argentina. A bid for either the 2030 or 2034 editions looks in the offing.

Publicly, the Saudi government insists the reason for this sporting expansion is to create investment opportunities, improve public health, and develop sporting infrastructure.

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