Saudi Arabia’s Sports Investments: Sportswashing or Strategic Soft Power?

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Saudi Arabia’s increasing involvement in the world of sports has raised eyebrows and sparked debates about whether it is merely a case of sportswashing or a calculated pursuit of strategic soft power. The kingdom’s relentless acquisition of sports events and investments in the industry has drawn attention and criticism, leading to discussions on the true motivations behind these endeavors. In this article, we delve into the complexities surrounding Saudi Arabia’s sports initiatives and explore the intertwined concepts of sportswashing and soft power in the context of the kingdom’s actions.

Saudi Arabia’s Sports Acquisition Spree:

The kingdom’s foray into sports has been characterized by its ambitious acquisitions and hosting of prestigious events. From golf tournaments to squash competitions, Saudi Arabia has aggressively sought to establish itself as a global sports destination. However, these initiatives have not been immune to controversy and scrutiny.

Sportswashing: Distracting from Human Rights Concerns?

Critics argue that Saudi Arabia’s involvement in sports serves as a smokescreen to divert attention from the country’s human rights record and contentious political practices. The term “sportswashing” has been coined to describe this phenomenon, suggesting that the kingdom strategically utilizes sports events to improve its international image and deflect criticism. By associating itself with high-profile tournaments and renowned athletes, Saudi Arabia seeks to present an image of progress and modernity, masking concerns regarding its human rights violations.

Soft Power: Saudi Arabia’s Strategic Calculations

Saudi Arabia’s investments in sports can also be seen as part of a broader strategy to acquire soft power. Soft power refers to a nation’s ability to influence others through non-coercive means, including culture, sports, and diplomacy. By hosting and investing in major sporting events, the kingdom aims to enhance its global reputation, attract international attention, and position itself as a significant player on the global stage. However, the pursuit of soft power through sports has generated debates about the ethical implications and the potential for whitewashing Saudi Arabia’s controversial policies.

Examining the Saudi International Golf Tournament:

One illustrative example of Saudi Arabia’s sports initiatives is the Saudi International, an annual professional golf tournament held since 2019. The tournament, part of the European Tour, has attracted top players from around the world. While the event showcases Saudi Arabia as a global sports destination, critics argue that it serves as a means to divert attention from the kingdom’s human rights violations. Controversial incidents, such as the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, have intensified discussions about the ethical considerations of participating in Saudi-backed sports events.

Implications and Ethical Dilemmas:

The kingdom’s increasing involvement in sports raises implications for the integrity of the sports industry and ethical dilemmas for players, sponsors, and governing bodies. The decision to align with Saudi-backed sports initiatives requires careful consideration of the moral implications and potential reputational risks associated with associating oneself with a country under scrutiny for its human rights practices. Striking a balance between economic interests and ethical considerations is a challenge that individuals and organizations must navigate.


Saudi Arabia’s extensive investments in sports have sparked discussions about whether it is merely sportswashing or a strategic pursuit of soft power. The acquisition of sports events and the hosting of tournaments present a complex web of ethical considerations and geopolitical implications. As the international community grapples with these challenges, it is crucial to engage in thoughtful discussions and hold all parties accountable for their actions. Only through critical analysis and dialogue can we discern the true nature of Saudi Arabia’s sports initiatives and their impact on the sports industry and global politics.

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