Saudi Arabia’s sports ambitions take center stage as MENA countries eye 2030 World Cup


Al-Monitor Pro Members


Samuel Wendel

Senior Market Research Analyst, Al-Monitor


Dec. 29, 2022

Bottom Line:

It wasn’t just an upset when Saudi Arabia beat eventual champion Argentina in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup — it was a sign of the times, as the kingdom is pushing to become a global player in the sports world. Although regional neighbors are also developing their sports sectors, Saudi Arabia stands out: from investing billions into LIV Golf, to hosting annual Formula 1 races and buying Newcastle United FC, the country’s sports footprint is growing fast. More big moves are likely coming: Saudi Arabia is widely expected to pursue a joint bid for the 2030 World Cup alongside Egypt and Greece. Winning hosting rights isn’t guaranteed and the effort could also generate significant backlash around the kingdom’s human rights issues, with it already criticized for engaging in “sportswashing” to improve its image. However, another Middle Eastern World Cup looks possible now that Qatar successfully completed its own highly scrutinized tournament. Plus, the timing aligns neatly with Vision 2030, the kingdom’s transformative economic diversification program. Either way, expect Saudi Arabia to make a splash in 2023 as its sporting ambitions continue evolving. 

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