World·Nothing is Foreign

Golf, soccer, F1: Saudi Arabia's big sports bet

Why Saudi Arabia is pouring billions into sports and what the controversial strategy could mean for its economy and young Saudi nationals.

Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars in professional sports in recent years

A man, dressed in the traditional thobe and keffiyeh, hands a trophy to a golfer, dressed in a striped red polo shirt and ball cap.
Golf Saudi CEO Noah Alireza presents the trophy to Abraham Ancer of Mexico for winning the PIF Saudi International in King Abdullah Economic City, north of Jeddah, on February 5, 2023. (Amer Hilabi/AFP via Getty Images)

If you're a sports fan, you may have noticed Saudi Arabia making billions of dollars of investments in everything from Formula 1 to professional tennis. In two high profile moves, the Saudis backed the merger of LIV Golf with the PGA tour earlier this month, and recruited soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to the Saudi Professional League for a reported $200 million a year in January.

Critics say the reason for this investment in sports is "sportswashing": an intentional move to build international prestige and distract from the actions of Saudi Arabia's repressive regime, which has been known for torture, mass executions, and suppressing civil liberties.

Saudi officials argue this investment, which largely comes from the country's over $600 billion sovereign wealth fund, is meant to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

This week, we talk about Saudi Arabia's big bet on sports, what it means for its economy, and what Saudi nationals think about it.


  • Ahmed Al Omran, Saudi journalist and former correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

Nothing is Foreign, a podcast from CBC News and CBC Podcasts, is a weekly trip to where the story is unfolding. It's hosted by Tamara Khandaker.