March 21, 2024

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Saudi Arabia Privatises Football Clubs, Eyes Big-name Signings

3 min read
Saudi Arabia Privatises Football Clubs, Eyes Big-name Signings

Four of the top football teams in Saudi Arabia, including Al Nassr, which Cristiano Ronaldo plays for, will be taken over by the country’s sovereign wealth fund as the government revives a plan to privatize several state-owned sports organizations.

According to a tweet from the sports ministry on Monday, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) will own 75% of Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr, and Al Hilal. This announcement comes in response to a report by the Saudi state news agency SPA that several sports clubs in the country will be privatized starting in the fourth quarter.

All but Al Ahli compete in the top-flight Saudi Professional League, which is divided into two divisions. Prior to privatizing them, often in part, PIF had previously taken control of a number of businesses.

There is no cap on the salaries the PIF can offer to entice top players to the Middle East, unlike the Premier League and other European teams. This is because Saudi clubs are not constrained by UEFA’s rules on spending.

The government’s Vision 2030 economic diversification plan, which seeks to establish new industries and generate employment, includes sports as one of its pillars. PIF is at the center of this program.

According to SPA, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s privatization plan permits businesses and development organizations to invest in and take control of clubs. The plan is primarily centered on football clubs.

Higher Revenue, Bigger Names

By 2030, the Saudi Professional League’s annual revenue is expected to increase from 450 million riyals ($120 million) to 1.8 billion riyals ($480 million). In the same time frame, it anticipates a market value increase to over 8 billion riyals ($2.1 billion).

According to the ministry of sports, NEOM, the company in charge of the kingdom’s plan to create a futuristic city in the desert, will convert the Second Division football team Al-Suqoor into a company and become its owner.

First Division club Al-Qadsiah will be owned by Saudi Arabia’s largest oil company Aramco, Third Division team Alula FC by the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, and First Division club Al-Diraiyah FC by the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.

The kingdom has been spending a lot of money to improve its football position. In October 2021, PIF oversaw a group that acquired Premier League team Newcastle United.

Additionally, the league has drawn some of the most accomplished athletes in the game, most notably Ronaldo of Portugal, who joined Al Nassr at the end of the previous season.

Lionel Messi, the captain of Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo’s competition for the best player of his generation, received a formal offer to play for Al Hilal next season, a source close to him revealed to Reuters last month.

The actions on Monday demonstrated that a growing number of elite athletes may soon receive lucrative offers to join Ronaldo in the Middle East.

“The Saudi Pro League … will be supported in its ambition to be amongst the top 10 leagues in the world,” SPA said.

Karim Benzema, a French striker, is reportedly planning to join Ronaldo, a former Real Madrid teammate, in the Saudi league. After an emotional farewell game on Sunday, after 14 years with the 14-time European champion, the move is anticipated to be officially announced this week.

Saturday marked Messi’s final match for Paris Saint-Germain, and he is currently considering offers from Saudi Arabia and Inter Miami of Major League Soccer.

Though he reluctantly left the financially troubled club for PSG in 2021 after spending 16 years there, reports in Spanish media suggest he would prefer a potential return to Barcelona.


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