• Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Saudi Pro league starts new season with star-studded European signings

Saudi Pro league starts new season with star-studded European signings

The Saudi Pro League has commenced its new season after making significant waves in the football world by attracting top players and coaches from renowned European clubs. With nearly half a billion dollars invested, Saudi Arabia’s league has garnered attention, raising debates about whether the move is a diversion from the country’s human rights concerns.

Launched on Friday, the Saudi Pro League has been marked by high-profile transfers over the past year, with critiques suggesting that the substantial spending is an attempt to shift focus from Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. The league’s clubs, backed by the country’s oil wealth, have managed to lure international football stars. Notable names like Karim Benzema, Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mane, and Cristiano Ronaldo have joined their ranks.

A significant bid was made last month by Al Hilal, offering 300 million euros ($330 million) for Kylian Mbappe, though the Paris Saint-Germain player reportedly declined meetings with the club officials. This season, the league has expanded from 16 to 18 clubs, each allowed eight foreign players.

One club that has particularly benefitted from the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s (PIF) initiative to invest in and privatize football clubs is Al Ahli. The PIF’s project also includes reigning champions Al Ittihad, Al Hilal, and Al Nassr.

Read also: Senegal’s Mane joins Saudi side Al-Nassr from Bayern

Al Ahli supporters were in for a surprise on their return to the top flight as Champions League winners such as Riyad Mahrez, Edouard Mendy, and Roberto Firmino joined the club.

“Saudi Arabia aspires to be like the English Premier League,” noted Simon Chadwick, a professor of Sport and Geopolitical Economy at Skema Business School. The league’s growing appeal has led to increased media attention.

Amidst its efforts to open up its society to the world, Saudi Arabia, a historically conservative country, has made strides such as welcoming non-Muslim tourists and allowing women to drive. The country has invested hundreds of millions in various sporting events, leading to claims of “sportswashing” its human rights issues.

This push for sports investment is seen as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s broader plan to modernize the Saudi economy and reduce reliance on oil.