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  • Writer's pictureMajid Alhusseini

Saudi Arabia Privatizes Major Football Clubs

In a move to privatize state-owned sports clubs, Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), will acquire a 75 percent ownership stake in four of the country's top football clubs. This includes Al Nassr, the club currently featuring Cristiano Ronaldo.

The announcement was made by the sports ministry on Twitter, following an earlier report by the state news agency SPA, which stated that Saudi Arabia plans to privatize several sports clubs in the fourth quarter. This initiative reflects the government's efforts to introduce privatization measures in the sports sector and promote private sector involvement in the management and development of these clubs.

The clubs involved in the privatization plan are all part of the top-flight Saudi Professional League, with the exception of Al Ahli, which competes in the second-tier Saudi First Division. The Public Investment Fund (PIF) has a history of taking over companies before privatizing them, albeit often only partially.

One advantage that Saudi clubs have over Premier League and other European teams is that they are not bound by UEFA's spending regulations. This means that the PIF can offer unlimited salaries to attract top players to the Middle East, providing a significant financial incentive.

Sports play a crucial role in Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 economic diversification plan, which aims to develop new industries and generate employment opportunities. The PIF is a central entity in this scheme and is actively involved in driving its success.

According to the plan reported by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the privatization initiative primarily focuses on football clubs and is spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The plan allows companies and development agencies to invest in and take over clubs, aligning with the government's efforts to encourage private sector involvement and investment in the sports sector.

The Saudi Arabian government has set ambitious targets for the revenue and market value of the Saudi Professional League as part of its long-term goals. By 2030, the kingdom aims to increase the league's annual revenue from 450 million riyals ($120 million) to 1.8 billion riyals ($480 million). Additionally, it expects the market value of the league to surpass 8 billion riyals ($2.1 billion) over the same period. These targets reflect the government's commitment to developing and expanding the league as a key component of its sports industry and economic diversification strategy outlined in Vision 2030. The plan seeks to boost revenue generation, attract investments, and enhance the overall competitiveness and market appeal of the Saudi Professional League.

As part of the privatization plan for sports clubs in Saudi Arabia, several clubs will undergo ownership changes. Al-Suqoor, a Second Division football club, will be transformed into a company owned by NEOM, the organization responsible for the development of a futuristic city in the desert.

Saudi Arabian oil giant Aramco will assume ownership of Al-Qadsiah, a club in the Saudi First Division. Alula FC, a team in the Third Division, will be owned by the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, while Al-Diraiyah FC, also in the First Division, will be under the control of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has made significant investments in its football infrastructure and aimed to enhance its standing in the sport. The Public Investment Fund (PIF) led a consortium that acquired the Premier League club Newcastle United in October 2021.

The Saudi Professional League has also managed to attract renowned players, including Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined Al Nassr at the end of the previous year. The influx of talent and financial backing demonstrates the kingdom's commitment to elevating its football landscape and bolstering its presence in the global football arena.

It is also worth mentioning that Karim Benzema officially joined his former longtime Real Madrid teammate Ronaldo in the Saudi league.

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