Title: Saudi Arabia’s Sportswashing: Can Money Absolve Human Rights Abuses?
In a wide-ranging interview with Fox News, Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, made controversial comments about “sportswashing,” using sports to improve the reputation of individuals or nations tarnished by wrongdoing. Despite facing international criticism for alleged human rights abuses, the Crown Prince highlighted the potential economic benefits of sports investments for Saudi Arabia. As the Kingdom aims to shift its reliance from oil to tourism, it is worth examining whether sportswashing through these investments can truly absolve Saudi Arabia from its checkered reputation.
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030:
Launched in 2016, Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan aims to modernize society, diversify the economy, and establish the nation as a global player. As part of this initiative, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), with its substantial assets of $720 billion, has invested billions in sports teams and leagues worldwide. Prominent examples include LIV Golf and Newcastle United, both of which witnessed increased global recognition. By capitalizing on the economic returns of these investments, Saudi Arabia seeks to forge better relationships with countries and companies worldwide.
Sportswashing and its Association with Human Rights Abuses:
Sportswashing, the act of utilizing sports to improve the reputation of individuals, corporations, or governments with a tainted track record, reflects Saudi Arabia’s intention to absolve its alleged human rights abuses. The dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, instances of violence against Ethiopian migrants, and Saudi citizens’ involvement in the 9/11 attacks have all cast a shadow on the nation’s reputation.
Absolution Through Sports:
The Crown Prince’s strategy revolves around utilizing sports investments to reshape the perception of Saudi Arabia. By highlighting its commitment to sports and investment in global events, Saudi Arabia hopes to present an image of a nation moving away from its troubled history. Bin Salman also emphasizes that those involved in Khashoggi’s murder are serving prison sentences and will face the law. However, this assertion does not nullify other allegations of human rights violations associated with the country.
Looking Ahead, Not Back:
Mohammed bin Salman unequivocally denies Saudi Arabia’s involvement in aiding al-Qaeda or playing any role in the 9/11 attacks. Reports and de-classified documents contradict this denial, but bin Salman’s focus remains on the future. Sustained investments in golf and other sports are deemed vital to the Kingdom’s shifting economic landscape, which aims to wean off dependency on oil and establish a thriving tourism industry.
The Road Ahead: Can Money Absolve Human Rights Abuses?
The Crown Prince’s reliance on sportswashing to improve Saudi Arabia’s image raises questions about the efficacy of this strategy. While sports investments can generate economic growth and enhance global perceptions, they may do little to absolve the country’s past and present transgressions. Critics argue that using financial influence to divert attention from human rights abuses undermines the importance of justice and accountability.
Saudi Arabia’s sportswashing strategy forms part of its wider Vision 2030 plan to transform the nation’s economy and reputation. While investments in sports may yield short-term economic gains and facilitate international relations, it is unlikely that they can wholly absolve Saudi Arabia from its history of alleged human rights abuses. The international community should remain vigilant, demanding transparency, justice, and accountability as essential components of any absolution process.