The term “sports washing” may have only entered the English lexicon in recent years, but the concept of countries using sports goodwill to repair a tarnished reputation goes back centuries.
Recently, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leader, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were accused of defaming the sport. Under his leadership, the nonprofit organization Reprieve found that the death penalty nearly doubled. The CIA report also reported that bin Salman approved the 2018 operation that led to the killing and maiming of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
According to activist Lina al-Khatloul, as social freedoms have expanded in Saudi Arabia, political repression has worsened. His sister, Luzanne, was punished for her actions. He was arrested, charged with terrorism and imprisoned, where he said he was tortured. Even after his release, he was banned from leaving the country.
“When it comes to sports, it’s clear that we want to have fun in Saudi Arabia,” says Lina. “But what we want is for our freedom… We don’t want to live in fear and not know that they will enter our house tomorrow. They will take our sister or our child.”
“There are a lot of problems with a lot of countries,” Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Saud said on John Wertime’s 60 Minutes on Sunday. Interviewed by Riyadh Abdulaziz in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Wartim asked the prince whether he believes in illegal sports and whether the state is exploiting sports.
“Of course not. I disagree with this statement. “Because I think when you travel to different parts of the world, you bring people together,” Abdulaziz said. “Everybody should come, see Saudi Arabia, see what it’s like and make a decision.” Look at yourself. It’s okay if you don’t like it.”
Saudi Arabia has invested nearly $7 trillion in recent years to integrate sports and entertainment into the country’s culture as part of what it calls its multi-stakeholder Vision 2030. And it boosts its oil-based economy.
As of 2019, the country has hosted heavyweight boxing matches, some of the world’s most lucrative Formula 1 events and horse racing. Money from the giant sovereign wealth fund has been used to buy English Premier League club Newcastle United and LIV Golf, a new entry on the PGA Tour to attract some of golf’s biggest stars.
“We are not saying that we are perfect, but I want to say that these things will help us get a better future for our people,” Prince Abdulaziz said.
You can watch Jon Wertheim’s full SportsWash report below.
The above video was produced by Keith Zubrow and edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.