Saudi Crown Prince dismisses accusations of ‘sportswashing’

(Reuters) – Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he does not care about allegations of “sportswashing” against the kingdom and that he will continue funding sport if it adds to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The allegation of “sportswashing” is levelled at countries perceived to be using sport to improve their tarnished image abroad.

“If sportswashing (is) going to increase my GDP by 1%, then we’ll continue doing sportswashing,” the crown prince told Fox News.

Saudi Arabia has made massive investments in soccer, golf Formula One, boxing and tennis in recent years through its Public Wealth Fund, which is chaired by the crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler since 2015.

Critics accuse the country of using its sovereign wealth fund to engage in “sportswashing” in the face of heavy criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Saudi Arabia denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security through its laws.

When asked specifically about the term “sportswashing”, the crown prince said: “I don’t care. I have 1% GDP growth from sports and I’m aiming for another 1.5%. Call it whatever you want – we’re going to get that other 1.5%.”

PIF owns an 80% stake in Premier League club Newcastle United and funded LIV Golf, which recruited high-profile players from the PGA Tour and Europe’s DP World Tour before announcing an agreement to merge and form one unified commercial entity.

It also took a majority ownership stake in four of the country’s top soccer clubs in June before teams in the Saudi Pro League spent nearly $1 billion in the transfer window which closed on Sept. 7.

Saudi Arabia has been hosting a Formula One Grand Prix since 2021 and has also held boxing world title fights. It will stage a professional tennis event for the first time this year.

(Reporting by Hritika Sharma in Hyderabad; Editing by Michael Perry)

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