The fantasies of the great Saudi powers
Cristiano Ronaldo is an expensive means to an end
01/06/2023, 7:27 p.m.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pursuing his goal of establishing the kingdom as a major sporting power. Al-Nassr club’s hugely expensive transfer stunt with footballing legend Cristiano Ronaldo is an important way to achieve a goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s anthem to Saudi football must have sounded sweet to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ears. The Saudi Pro League is “very competitive” and he is “so proud” of his arrival in the Kingdom, the five-time world footballer said during his pompous presentation as a newcomer to Al-Nassr FC. Royally paid, Ronaldo immediately fulfilled his role as a public relations ambassador for Saudi Arabia, which wants to establish itself as a sports powerhouse in the style of Qatar.
“Our league, our nation and generations to come” will inspire the superstar, Al-Nassr said. For the ‘kicker’, however, the 37-year-old’s transfer is ‘perhaps the biggest sporting washout ever seen outside of the World Cup in Qatar’. Critics repeatedly warn that the aim is to distract from massive human rights abuses. The coup with the ever-dazzling Portuguese is the most spectacular step in a strategy that the Saudi Crown Prince is vigorously pursuing.
Infantino has good contacts with Riyadh
Formula 1 races, world boxing championships, its own golf series, the Asian Winter Games in 2029 – for years Saudi Arabia has positioned itself as the organizer of major sporting events and is expanding its influence on the international sports scene. Football is increasingly playing the leading role, and the kingdom is positioning itself to host the 2030 World Cup.
The British public investment fund has taken over Premier League club Newcastle United in 2021. The Saudi sports minister hopes Manchester United and Liverpool FC, which are up for sale, will also be sold to Saudi investors. FIFA boss Gianni Infantino has good contacts with Riyadh. In 2021, he appeared in a Saudi promotional video praising the country’s development. Saudi Arabia is said to have been behind the billion-euro deal for the rights to new competitions and other rights that Infantino tried – ultimately unsuccessfully – to push through a few years ago .
“Convinced that he can make the difference with his aura”
In recent years, the fact that Qatar has overtaken its big neighbor in international sports politics has been a thorn in the side of the Saudi royal family. With the Ronaldo deal, which will likely cost at least half a billion euros in wages and bonuses, Saudi Arabia now sees its time coming. “All countries would love to host the World Cup,” Saudi sports minister Abdulasis bin Turki al-Faisal told the BBC recently. A joint application with Egypt and Greece is under discussion.
Football is the national sport in Saudi Arabia. The fan culture can compete with other countries. Ronaldo is now expected to draw even more attention to the country’s league with his brilliance. “I’m convinced he can make a difference with his aura,” said former national player Erich Beer. More stars could follow Ronaldo and the lure of money, believes the 76-year-old, who played for Al-Ittahad Jeddah from 1979 to 1981. “Those who blame me for coming here don’t know, they don’t understand football. I don’t care about their critics either, it’s my decision,” said Ronaldo, who recently turned his back on Manchester United in a dispute.
Georgina Rodriguez leads by example
Human rights activists have long been alarmed by the kingdom’s efforts. Opponents of the government are persecuted with all the severity in Saudi Arabia. Freedom of expression and assembly is severely restricted, alcohol and homosexuality are strictly prohibited. The US Secret Service also holds the crown prince responsible for the brutal murder of Saudi government critic Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. However, the conservative kingdom has opened up socially in recent years, and the rights of women in particular have been strengthened. He also wants to be an inspiration to young people and women in the future, Ronaldo assured on his first appearance in the new shirt.
Girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez also made a statement. She wore an abaya during the reception ceremony on the pitch, which earned her a lot of praise from the Saudi media. Saudi women usually wear this long black dress over their clothes in public. According to a newspaper report, Rodriguez respects the traditions of the kingdom. Ronaldo’s new masters should have liked that gesture as well.
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