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The Gamut

The Gamut

The Gamut

Saudi sportwashing a disturbing trend for soccer

Danny Banuelos Chavez

Throughout this year, the Saudi Pro League signed hefty contracts with big-name soccer players like Neymar Júnior and Cristiano Ronaldo as part of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan. In this initiative, the government plans to transition the country’s economy away from being solely reliant on oil by allocating $64 billion to entertainment industries like Formula 1 racing, golf, and more recently, soccer. However, various human rights organizations and critics of Saudi Arabia accuse the government of trying to “wash” away its human rights abuses by building up its public image, also known as sportswashing. 

With a budget of over $900 million for transfer funds, notable players such as French star striker Karim Benzema, Senegalese forward Sadio Mané, English midfielder Jordan Henderson, and French right winger Riyad Mahrez, also signed contracts for teams in the Saudi Pro League because of better pay. On the other hand, star players in the European Premier League such as Heung-min Son from Tottenham and Kylian Mbappe rejected $120 million and $1.1 billion contracts respectively out of loyalty towards their league. 

“I have many things to do in the Premier League. Money doesn’t matter to me now, and the pride of playing football, to play in my favorite league is important,” said Son to Yonhap News. “If I wanted to go there [Saudi Arabia], I would not be here. I love playing football, obviously, money is also important but I dream for playing [in the] Premier League”

As the Saudi league offers more contracts to players, human activist groups like Amnesty International and Grant Liberty raised concerns about the implications of this trend. These groups believe that these deals will draw public attention away from the government’s unlawful and arbitrary killings of civilians and imprisonment of the free press, with the most notable example being the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the government in 2018. At that time, numerous nations and corporations condemned their suppression of free speech by imposing visa bans, asset freezes, and arm sale restrictions that were in place until recently. 

“Previously, sports figures and brands had rejected offers to engage with Saudi Arabia due to its well-documented human rights abuses,” said Grant Liberty to The Guardian. “However, there has been a worrisome shift in moral stance, as lucrative deals are now being accepted despite the ongoing and deteriorating violations.”

Human rights activists aren’t the only ones criticizing these transfers. Players such as former Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic have questioned the decision to move, believing that players should not tarnish their legacies by moving nor prioritize money over the game. Despite this opposition, the Saudi Arabian government continues to attract new talent with lucrative contracts and has recently announced its bid to host the 2034 Mens Soccer World Cup. 

“If sport washing is going to increase my GDP by way of 1%, then I will continue doing sportswashing,” said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to Fox News. “I don’t care … I’m aiming for another 1.5%. Call it whatever you want, we’re going to get that 1.5%.”

About the Contributors
Eshmom Haque, Sports Editor
Outspoken writer and Gamut sports editor Eshmom Hacque is ready for his final year on the Gamut’s staff! As an experienced member of track, he is all about fitness, physical activity, and health. Inspiring stories of human physicality, achievement, and leadership are what Eshmom wants to share with the world. He is also involved in political and ethical discussions, unabashedly bestowing his hot takes on current events and critical issues in local and international government. When away from the intensity of athletics and debate, he enjoys listening to his favorite genres of music, K-Pop, R’n’B, and rap, or watching shows like Arrested Development, Suits, and Business Proposal. He is always up for new experiences– especially hair ones, since he’s gone through a perm, side part, middle part, and mullet within his time at the Gamut. Though he was halted by a sports injury for some time, Eshmom is back and ready for action, both on the field and as a sports editor this year!
Danny Banuelos Chavez, Staff Artist
Danny Banuelos Chavez, a current sophomore at Oxford Academy, is entering their first year at the Gamut as a photographer and illustrator. As a person who has always been keenly observant of others, they took an interest in photography and taking action shots of others. Chavez is an obsessive enjoyer of “Garfield” and is easily able to recant their days of scribbling the lasagna-loving cat in their notebook. They describe themself as wacky because they love to change things up all the time, such as their room and wallpaper. Chavez also indulges in thought-provoking and most esteemed comedies such as “Parks and Recreation” and “Arrested Development”. They partake in all forms of music ranging from metal to country, some of their favorite bands being Mitski, Hozier, and the Cure. Aside from their cultured interests, they consider their culinary taste to be a “bit basic”, since their favorite foods are avocado toast and wings. Chavez looks forward to putting their photography skills to work this upcoming year.