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  • Writer's pictureMajid Alhusseini

In a historic move, Saudi Arabia allows foreign ownership of sports clubs, academies and centers

The Saudi Ministry of Sport has launched 'Nafes', a new online licensing platform to encourage investors from around the world to take full ownership of clubs, academies and centers across 27 sport disciplines in the country.

Saudi Arabia will open ownership of its sports clubs, academies and centres for the first time to foreign investors, in what was described on Monday as “a turning point for the kingdom’s sports sector”.

The Saudi Ministry of Sport has launched 'Nafes', a new online licensing platform to encourage investors from around the world to take full ownership of clubs, academies and centres across 27 sport disciplines in the country.

The initiative is designed for attracting private investment to help increase the number of entities, enhance competition of athletes, and strengthen the impact on the overall economy.

Historically, the Saudi sports industry has been reliant on government funds and support to operate. The sports being offered for ownership through Nafes include football, basketball, swimming, equestrian, tennis, cycling, combat sports and electronic sports.

In a statement on Monday, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, the Minister of Sports, said: “We are inviting the world to partner with us on our journey of sporting transformation. Our country’s incredible passion for sport is well known and, as more get active and take up sport, the economic opportunity is exciting.

“Sport is an integral component of our kingdom’s transformative Vision 2030, and we would not have achieved these massive strides if it were not for the unconditional support by our kingdom’s leadership.

Nafes is our invitation to overseas partners to drive our sporting investment to the next level and to collaborate across our sports clubs, academies and centers. It is a turning point for the kingdom’s sports sector. Our message to investors and the private sector both in Saudi Arabia and across the globe is direct and clear: establish your clubs, compete and draw the future path of Saudi sports investment.”

The launch of Nafes falls under Saudi’s 'Quality of Life' sports program, a component of the Vision 2030 drive to diversify its economy. The statement released on Monday said the country’s sports economy has grown 174 per cent in the past three years, with its contribution to GDP increasing by 22 per cent.

Together with the push to increase participation levels among its population – the kingdom experienced a 37 per cent rise between 2015-2019 – Saudi has become a major player on the international sports scene. In the past three years, it has hosted international football, European Tour golf, tennis, world championship boxing and elite-level motorsport.

Later this year, the kingdom will stage the inaugural Saudi Arabian Formula One Grand Prix. Running December 3-5, it represents the penultimate race on the F1 calendar, with Abu Dhabi retaining its slot as the season finale.

On Nafes, Prince Abdulaziz added: “This was an organic development that falls in line with our efforts to position Saudi at the forefront of the sporting world globally and that is a crucial part in Saudi Vision 2030.

"As our sporting ambitions continue, we seek to collaborate with partners and strike a healthy balance between public and private sector investment.”

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