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HomeSports2023 in review: The year Saudi Arabia became sports superpower

2023 in review: The year Saudi Arabia became sports superpower

December 27, 2023
In a rare English-language interview with Fox News in September, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman doubled down on “sportswashing” claims against his country and vowed to keep funding sports until it contributed to 3% of the kingdom’s economic growth.
“If sportswashing [is] going to increase my GDP by 1%, then we’ll continue doing sportswashing,” the millennial de facto ruler of the desert kingdom said.
MBS’s comments stood out because Saudi Arabia’s critics have long accused the country of using sporting events to burnish its international image to quell concerns around free speech and human rights in the Gulf kingdom. Many paid less attention to his longer-term plan — the 3% of GDP figure — a contribution comparable to many of the world’s largest and most mature economies, such as Britain, Germany and the United States.
Saudi Arabia has been investing in foreign sports for decades, but 2023 marked a turning point. Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at Skema Business School in Paris, told Al-Monitor that while Riyadh’s investment bonanza this year should not necessarily come as a surprise, it was the year “everything changed” due to the volume and speed of the expansion.

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