July is a packed calendar of sports, starting with British cyclist Adam Uates beating his twin brother Simon to win the first stage of the Tour de France.
The other day, July 2, American golfer Talor Gooch won LIV Golf Andalucia, his third victory in nine tournaments in the 1023 edition of ten Saudi – backed breakaway series, taking home $4 million for this win.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia is hosting Gamers 8, The Land of Heroes, directed at Boulevard Riyadh City, a 220-acre entertainment zone opened in 2019. Gamers8 is an eight-week export festival with 15 elite tournaments at a purpose-built venue, with a prize pool of $45 million.
According to Turki Alfawazan, the Chief Executive of the Saudi Esports Federation, the event ” represents a vital step towards our grand vision of becoming a global gaming hub.”
Simon Chadwick, a professor of global sport and geopolitical economy at the SKEMA Business School, said, ” Saudi Arabia’s interest in sports is driven by many factors, one of which is climate; for many months, it is simply too hot to play sports or stage events outdoors.” Esports enables year-round engagement with sports.
Moreover, there have been some successes. The recent FIFA women’s world champion was a Saudi. This plays to the socially transformative role sport is supposed to j have, and esports events bring large crowds and inward tourism.
Dr. Khalid Aljabri, a Saudi cardiologist and entrepreneur now based in Washington DC, said, ” It’s not about sports, its about influence,” he further added that, ” MBS desired returns aren’t financial dividends but a mix of global influence, rebranding and image sanitation, as well as domestic entertainment and distraction.”
However, the Saudi government claims Saad Aljabri is guilty of corruption and has been trying to extradite him. Aljabri and his supporters say these allegations are politically motivated and have accused MBS of attempting to assassinate him.
For Khalid Aljabri, this is all part of a pattern of repression that started when MBS became deputy crown prince and minister of defense in 2015. That was also the year he took control of the previously small, passive, and domestically focused PIF and started using it as the funding vehicle for Vision 2030, his grand plan for diversifying the Saudi economy that has become a national mantra.
However, in many ways, the investments in gaming and motorsport are the best examples of Saudi Arabia parking its tanks on people’s lawns as they coordinate existing domestic interests with future economic gains.
Professor Chadwick said, ” Just as we have seen Saudi Arabia moving very fast, often in a disruptive way, across other sports, the country has rapidly established itself as a major player in the global motorsport scene.”
He added, ” All of these investments, and the electric powerboat racing and battery powered sand- dune bashing, are consistent with the country’s investments in alternative energy, which is intended to help it jump from being an oil giant to a green energy power. It is worth remembering that Saudi Arabia is positioning itself to become a global supplier of lithium, a key component of big batteries”.