Always a Voice for Students

Imua ʻIolani

Always a Voice for Students

Imua ʻIolani

Always a Voice for Students

Imua ʻIolani

Scoring Gold Over Goals: Saudi Arabia Strikes Controversy in World Soccer Industry

When he was asked about the level of the Saudi Pro League at the Global Soccer Awards on January 1 2024, Cristiano Ronaldo said, “To be honest, I think the Saudi league is not less competitive than France’s league.” Ronaldo’s speech and vouch for the Saudi Pro League strikes a debate about a series of Saudi Arabia’s actions regarding the world soccer industry. In the year of 2023, Saudi Arabia spent tons of money buying world-class players and clubs from Europe. By this act of purchasing players, this is the first time that one country in the world tries to build its impact on world soccer, and this country is Saudi Arabia. However, experts and fans argue that Saudi Arabia destroyed the entire world soccer industry through sportwashing, incredibly high salaries and wasting talents. On the other hand, a lot of fans have the opposite ideas toward Saudi Arabia’s actions. For example, student fan Griffin Gadre ’26 says, “Personally speaking, I would say Saudi Arabia made the world of soccer more inclusive but confusing.” More choices, more viewerships and more passion are some upsides of Saudi Arabia’s actions in soccer. Both critics and supporters of Saudi Arabia’s actions argue against each other very intensely around the globe. The main criticisms and upsides of these actions all have their own evidence and explanation.

The start key of Saudi Arabia’s investments was Rolnado’s transfer. On January 1, 2023, Portugal world-class player Cristano Ronaldo agreed to join the Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr. Following Ronaldo, in 2023, superstar players, such as former world third best player Neymar Jr. Ballon d’Or holder Benzema and World Cup winner Kante, were attracted by a huge paycheck and joined the Saudi Pro League. Apart from that, Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) took over the famous England Premier League team– Newcastle United. In addition to Saudi Arabia’s recent involvement in world soccer , a lot of big European games such as the Italian Supercup Final were played in Saudi Arabia. Since there is no other country spending such a significant amount of money in a sports industry in one year, all of these huge actions in such a short period of time by Saudi Arabia are unprecedented in the entire history of soccer.  

“I don’t care about Sportswashing accusation.”

First, looking into the criticisms, the most popular accusation regarding these actions of soccer investment is sportswashing, which is when a country intends to shift the world focus of its poor human rights record to their sports influences. In this case, Saudi Arabia shifts the world’s attention from the poor human rights to their huge investment in soccer. However, in the interview from Fox Sports, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responded, “Well if sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by one percent, then I will continue doing sportswashing.” He clearly responded that he does not care about those critics since no matter what Saudi Arabia does, they will still receive criticism of their poor human rights record. 

“They are wasting talents, they are money-chasers!”

Frantic soccer fans have been disappointed to see the players they love leave the big stages (mostly European big leagues), especially when they still have the ability to stay in a more competitive level, but they chose to leave for money. Student soccer fan Hanson Su ’27 says, “It’s very sad to see that talented players like Neymar leave Europe, I still want to see the Brazilian superstar playing high level soccer.” It is truly sad for fans, but most people do argue that those players won the enormous paycheck with their high ability. They chose money over trophies, which is definitely not an awful or unreasonable decision. Overall, fans do want to see talented players such as Neymar Jr. and Mane remain in Europe.

“Saudi Arabia is destroying the player’s salary balance around the world.”

Crisano Rolnado was paid around $222 million dollars in 2023, which is the highest soccer player’s salary in the entire world right now. On the other hand, Kylian Mbappe, who was the highest paid player in Europe in 2023, was paid $77 million dollars a year. Rolnado’s salary was almost 3 times higher than Mbappe’s salary. Even though Neymar’s salary is much higher than all those top players who stay in Europe, Neymar Jr. only played 4 matches for the Al-Hilal team. This huge soccer players’ salary gap between Saudi and Europe is argued by a lot of European soccer supporters as unfair and unreasonable.

Record-Breaking viewers for Asian soccer around the world.”

Based on the stats provided by Transfermarkt, in season 2022/23, more than 2 million new viewers started to watch Saudi Pro League and the average number of spectators of each game increased to 10,200 fans. Compared to the viewers of Saudi Pro League in the season 2021-22, the viewership number increased around 66%. More strikingly, compared to the viewers of the same league 10 years ago, the viewership number has more than tripled and soars more than 360%. Furthermore, ProSport reported that after Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to the Saudi Arabia League at the start of 2023, the spectators of the league increased at least seven times. The star effect of Ronaldo and other players caused a burst of viewership in Saudi Arabia’s soccer. Uncle Kevin Tomisato ’04, who is a huge soccer fan, says, “From last year, I started to watch or at least give some attention to Saudi soccer and big Asian soccer tournaments.” The record-breaking viewing numbers of the 2023 Asian Cups is proof of the increasing popularity of Asian soccer internationally.

Through a lot of Saudi Arabia’s huge amount of money investments in soccer, it is definite that Saudi Arabia has put itself in the spotlight of world soccer. Even though the criticisms of Saudi Arabia in the soccer industry are piling up, sports such as soccer can ignite a country’s energy and viewer’s passion. 

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About the Contributor
Joey D., Staff
My name is Joey and I am a sophomore. This is my first year in Imua and I joined to learn more about writing news and covering the interesting activities and collaborations happening on Campus. Here’s a quick fun fact: I have lived in Ethiopia for a long time, and currently my home is in Ethiopia.

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