The confrontation, which brought together the stars of the Saudi Arabian football clubs Al-Nasr and Al-Hilal and the French club Paris Saint-Germain, was attended by the two poles of the game in the last two decades, the Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo and the Argentine Lionel. . Messi once again lit up the kingdom, showing that his ambitions in the field of organizing major sporting events are still in their infancy.
The star team of the season in Riyadh, made up of players from Ronaldo and his new team, Al-Nasr, and rival Al-Hilal, lost to the Argentine, who won the last World Cup in Qatar, Messi and his teammates in St Germain, 4-5, Thursday at King Fahd Stadium in front of over 60,000 fans.
The match attracted worldwide attention, particularly as it could be the last between two legends, Messi, 35, who is set to renew his contract with Saint-Germain, and Ronaldo, 37, who joined Al-Nasr last month at a fictional club. . Agreement. . for 200 million euros.
“The Great Game”
The wealthy Gulf kingdom spends hundreds of millions of dollars organizing international sporting events or buying up international clubs to change its conservative image in the world. This is happening as part of a campaign of broad social and economic reforms.
After the match, Turki al-Sheikh, adviser to the royal court and head of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, told AFP: “This is a great match… and this is the turning point of what will happen at Vision 2030. . .” It refers to the plan for reform, economic development and diversification of sources of income in the kingdom of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, so that it is no longer limited to exclusivity.
According to al-Sheikh, bin Salman will “surprise the Saudis with more and more things”, adding: “Of course, the next one is better and better.”
Investing in sport is part of the “Vision 2030” strategy.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has hosted major sporting events such as professional golf tournaments, Formula 1 races and the Dakar Rally.
As part of the renovations, he opened the doors to non-religious tourism and allowed women to drive. It is discussing with Egypt and Greece the possibility of bidding to co-host the 2030 World Cup.
The Saudis will host the upcoming men’s and women’s AFC Asian Cup and the Asian Summer and Winter Olympics on artificial snow.
And Saudi Arabia’s Sports Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, confirmed in an interview with AFP last August that hosting the Olympics is “a goal”.
“just the beginning”
The agreement, which provides for Ronaldo’s stay at Al-Nasr for two and a half years for 200 million euros, highlights the Saudi league, one of the strongest leagues in Asia, and unknown worldwide.
Ronaldo, according to a source close to his new club, signed another contract with the Saudis for another two hundred million euros to be the kingdom’s joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup.
Daniel Reich, visiting assistant professor at Georgetown University in Qatar, believes that “Ronaldo’s move is just the beginning” adding: “We will see more stars move to Saudi Arabia”, explaining that the “world spotlight” will now be brighter focused on controversial issues. Issues in Saudi Arabia such as women’s rights, LGBT rights, migrant workers and repression of opponents, as happened in Qatar when it hosted the FIFA World Cup in late 2022.
But according to Reich, for rich Gulf countries, global sporting events are not just about trying to protect their human rights.
He continues: “In Saudi Arabia, this is part of a broader approach to openness to the public, rather than covering up human rights abuses.”
“They understand that they cannot count on military and political power, they must have soft power”, he says.
Thursday’s game sent “a very strong message,” Reich said. “By organizing a party like this, he (says) ‘look how we are changing’.
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