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Saudi wealth fund creates firm to attract top sports events

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The Saudi sovereign wealth fund on Sunday announced a new sports investment company designed to draw “major global events” to the kingdom, which has spent recent months luring top football stars.

The company, SRJ Sports Investments, “will invest in acquiring and creating new sports events IP (intellectual property), commercial rights of popular and prominent sports competitions and hosting major global events in Saudi Arabia,” the Public Investment Fund (PIF) said in a statement.

It will “target businesses specialised in offering unique fan engagement activities and transformative sports technology across the industry, bolstering Saudi Arabia’s position as one of the world’s leading sports and entertainment destinations”.

One of the world’s largest sovereign wealth vehicles, the PIF in 2022 had assets under management totalling 2.23 trillion Saudi riyals ($595 billion), according to its annual report released Sunday.

Sports have been a major focus of the oil-rich kingdom’s effort to rebrand as a global business and tourism destination under the Vision 2030 reform agenda pursued by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the PIF chairman.

Football clubs in the Gulf state, the world’s biggest crude exporter, have signed a host of major stars beginning with Cristiano Ronaldo last year and continuing with Karim Benzema, Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mane this year, though overtures to Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi have been unsuccessful.

Saudi Arabia has also caused shockwaves in golf with its financing of the rebel LIV series and hosts a Formula One Grand Prix.

The ATP and the WTA, which run the men’s and women’s professional tennis tours, have been targeted by the Saudis, who hosted an exhibition for top men’s players outside Riyadh last year.

The flurry of deals and negotiations have spurred allegations of “sports washing”, or using sports to distract from Saudi Arabia’s frequently criticised human rights record.

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