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Qatar and Saudi Arabia's recent obsession to take over world sports

The two oil-producing countries are shifting their focus to highly competitive sports.

Dominar el deporte mundial, la última obsesión de Qatar y Arabia Saudí.

(Voz Media)

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Qatar and Saudi Arabia are famous for their rivalry. Both countries have been going back and forth to see who has greater political and economic influence in the Persian Gulf region.

The two countries have dealt with team acquisitions, sponsorships and have even hosted the world's most important sporting events. This is how Saudi Arabia and Qatar try to compete with each other. The money they have made from oil sales has made it possible for both countries to shift their economic efforts to sports. Thanks to this, they have modernized their cities and their infrastructures, which has made them more attractive on the international stage. They have managed to convince the best athletes and international institutions to hold competitions on Qatari or Saudi soil.

European soccer, the great obsession

Soccer, in particular, is the sport that has attracted the largest investments from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Several teams have been purchased by members of the royalty of the two countries or wealthy businessmen. In 2011, Qatar Investment Authority, a public investment fund of the Qatari emirate, acquired 70% of Paris Saint-Germain's shares. The main objective of the investment was to take the French team to the top and win the UEFA Champions League. Twelve seasons later, that dream has yet to come true, despite the millions spent on signings summer after summer, bringing in players such as Leo Messi and Neymar.

Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, president of Paris Saint-Germain. File image.

Qatar was also interested in Spanish soccer. Abdullah ben Nasser Al Thani, a member of royalty, bought Málaga CF in 2010. At first, it paid off. The team went on to qualify for the UEFA Champions League semifinals. But year after year, this modest team began to go downhill, so much so that this year they were relegated to Spain's third division.

Riyadh is also pushing for investment in European soccer. In 2021, the Saudi Public Investment Sovereign Wealth Fund bought 80% of the total shareholding of the English Premier League's Newcastle United, making it the richest team on the soccer scene. In two seasons, Saudi money has brought the team back to the UEFA Champions League, a competition it will contest 21 seasons later. Sheffield United, which will play in the English top flight next season, is also owned by the Saudi Arabian monarchy, as are France's Châteauroux and Belgium's Beerschot FC. In Spain, Turki Al-Sheikh, a royal advisor, became the largest shareholder of UD Almeria.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the jewel in the Saudi crown

Saudi Arabia's investment in soccer led to its own championship. A few days before the end of the year 2022, , which was a huge blow to the world soccer scene. He signed a $500 million deal, an amount he will earn over the two and a half seasons playing for the team. This deal wouldn't have been possible without the financial backing of the country's Sovereign Wealth Fund, which provided Al Nassr with enough money to carry out the operation.

Cristiano Ronaldo, on his presentation with Al Nassr.

Unaccustomed to seeing such a star like Cristiano Ronaldo playing in their championship, the Saudis welcomed him in style. Never before have we seen a presentation like the one prepared for him by Saudi Arabia and Al Nassr fans upon his arrival. CR7 arrived in a convoy of high-end cars at Mrsool Park stadium to lights, fireworks and thousands of fans all excited to see their new star.

His first season didn't turn out as the team had hoped. Al Nassr hoped to win the championship with Cristiano Ronaldo on its roster. This year, they finished in second place. As of today, he is the highest-paid athlete in the world.

A World Cup to 'Open up to the world'

In December 2010, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) assigned Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. It was the first time in history that a Muslim-majority country hosted what is probably the most televised soccer tournament on the planet. That decision was more than controversial: institutions, celebrities and sponsors rejected the choice because certain fundamental rights are not respected in the country. Even the so-called Qatargate Affair came to light, a corruption scheme involving FIFA's top officials due to irregularities in the appointment process. The dates had to be changed due to the high temperatures (The championship is usually held between June and July; this one was moved to November and December).

Everything fell by the wayside and the 2022 World Cup was finally held in Qatar. From the moment it was appointed host, the country set the ball in motion. It modernized the country's infrastructure, built new stadiums, etc. This was thanks to an astronomical investment by the emirate's institutions. Hosting this event was a unique opportunity to 'open up to the world' and clean up its image.

The truth is that the World Cup took place as planned, without any major incidents. Argentina was named champion after beating France in the final in a penalty shootout.

Argentina, champion of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

LIV Golf: better prizes than on the PGA Tour

In 2022, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund sponsored LIV Golf, a new major golf circuit to rival the PGA Tour. Its CEO is former Australian golfer Greg Norman.

In order to compete with the main North American golf circuit, Saudi Arabia attracted some of the best golfers such as Dustin Johnson from the U.S. or Sergio Garcia from Spain. It also offers higher prize money than the PGA Tour.

In its first season, LIV Golf held eight championships: London (United Kingdom); Portland, Boston, Miami, Bedminster and Chicago (United States); Bangkok (Thailand); and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia).

For some time now, LIV Golf has been involved in a conflict of interest with the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour. This has led to various lawsuits between the organizations. Finally, the parties reached an agreement to merge the three organizations together and form a new entity to promote golf, putting an end to their problems.

A need for speed

Qatar and Saudi Arabia host two Grand Prix (G.P.) of Formula 1 and MotoGP, the two most important categories in both motor racing and motorcycling. They also host the Dakar Rally.

Starting with Formula 1, the first edition of the Saudi Arabian G.P. was held in 2021. The Jeddah Corniche circuit, located in the city of Jeddah, hosts the race. It has an urban layout, similar to other G.P.s such as Monaco (Monaco) or Baku (Azerbaijan). The Qatar F1 Grand Prix was inaugurated that same year. It is held at the Lusail International Circuit, located about 17 miles from Doha.

G.P. of Saudi Arabia. Jeddah Corniche Circuit during the celebration of the race in 2023.

This same circuit hosts the Qatar G.P. of MotoGP, which has been held there since 2008. In the case of Saudi Arabia, it has not yet hosted a race, although it will do so in the future. The Dakar Rally is held in the Saudi desert. The hardest event in the world has been held there since 2020.

Asian Winter Games in Saudi Arabia. Will the Olympic Games be held in Qatar?

Saudi Arabia will host the upcoming Asian Winter Games. The date is 2029. This was determined by the Asian Olympic Council (AOC) at its general assembly held in October 2022. This competition, which brings together winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding, is a 'scaled-down version' of the Winter Olympics, as only Asian athletes attend.

It is striking that the COA decided to give this opportunity to Saudi Arabia, knowing that it is a country that spends long periods without snow. The event will be held in a futuristic complex being built in the city of Neom.

Qatar would like to host the Olympic Games. The country has already tried to host the event on three occasions but didn't win the nomination. The country hoped that by hosting the 2022 World Cup, it could convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the international community that they have the resources to host the event. Its next attempt will be for the 2036 Olympic Games.