Lots of new things, lots of doubts: Commentary on the start of the Saudi Pro League

Lots of new things, lots of doubts: Commentary on the start of the Saudi Pro League

So now it’s starting, the Saudi Pro League, but it doesn’t start right away with the supposed blockbuster Al-Nassr against Al-Ittihad, as it had been doing the rounds in the meantime, i.e. not with the duel Cristiano Ronaldo against Karim Benzema and more few other newcomers who now earn insane sums and ultimately only shake their heads from the open-minded viewer. Shaking heads at their ignorance of the human rights violations that are a daily occurrence in Saudi Arabia.

Ultimately, the royal family is responsible for these human rights violations, and that quickly leads to football, because the top clubs have been 75 percent owned by the Saudi state fund PIF since this summer, which in turn is the spearhead of the Saudi Vision 2030.

Under this label, the royal family and in charge Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman want to make the country fit for the future, possibly one day without oil, diversification is also being carried out, and sport is also to become a broad sector of the economy with tens of thousands of jobs for a society with a comparatively young population .

Qatar as a role model: Saudi Arabia wants to become a big player in sport

Saudi Arabia wants to become a big player in sport, two years ago the PIF took over Newcastle United, and of course footballers are allowed to do what other athletes do: Formula 1 has long been in the country, world championship fights in boxing are held, most recently the PIF hijacked golf with the US PGA Tour. And you also want the World Cup one day, of course.

Qatar has shown the way. In 2022, the World Cup visitors from all over the world did not usually send home debates about social grievances in the country, but rather pictures of well-developed stadiums. And with PSG, Qatar has had a driving force for years that draws the global focus to football.

The Saudi state fund now has hundreds of billions available for all its projects, but it is doing sportswashing against the background of human rights violations. Every player or coach who has now been caught for the Saudi Pro League and thus indirectly advertises Saudi Arabia should be aware of this. And also every jersey hunter.

Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, sees himself as a pioneer in a league that he sees in the top category in just a few years, at Bundesliga, La Liga or Serie A level. Wait and see, so far no real top players have followed the call apart from old stars.

Time will tell what the league can do, but you can already earn millions of euros there as a professional, some even a week. What you can’t do in the supposed football paradise without experiencing reprisals is to come out as a homosexual or to report critically about the regime. Then you will be prosecuted. Examples only.

It is therefore ultimately simple: you can take part as a protagonist in the Saudi Pro League or refuse this sportswashing.

The German coach Matthias Jaissle is involved, he duped RB Salzburg shortly before the start of the league and switched to Al-Ahli, as coach of the promoted team he can coach the opening game of the season against Al-Hazem this Friday. So changed, possibly against better advice, perhaps assuming that in one, two, three years you will find a job somewhere in Europe, maybe even in a top league, if it is still that top at all, should Cristiano Ronaldo was right in his assessment.

The radiance of the new arouses interest – Messi is involved as a tourism ambassador

But every goal or brace scored by CR7 or Benzema or Roberto Firmino or whoever scores in the Pro League is largely irrelevant in football terms. Even if Saudi Arabia is no longer a developing country in terms of football, as the national team’s victory over Argentina at the 2022 World Cup showed. At the moment, however, it is more the radiance of the new that is attracting worldwide interest, which alone is an initial success for the regime in Riyadh, which has a bad reputation. And if you point out grievances, as in these lines, you still give the royal family the critical attention it doesn’t deserve.

Speaking of earning: Due to the sheer financial power in the Saudi Pro League, even the Premier League may one day face an opponent when it comes to baiting the top stars. In the USA and the MLS, consideration could possibly be given to further softening the salary cap in the future in order to remain competitive. World champion Lionel Messi has just moved to the USA, yes. But in Saudi Arabia he is still involved as a tourism ambassador for the country.


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