Saudi Arabia: The Secret Power in World Football?

In January 2019, the King Abdullah Sports
City Stadium in Jeddah, the bustling, multi-ethnic port city on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast,
will host an historic match. Juventus and AC Milan will play each other, not in some
glorified pre-season friendly but in he Italian Supercoppa. With all the controversy about the Premier
League’s 39th game and La Liga’s recent failed attempt to play a league match in the US,
the Italian Supercoppa is something of a trailblazer in this area, having already been played four
times in China, twice in the US, twice in Doha and, most unusually, in Tripoli, the
capital of Libya. The move was announced by the Saudi General
Sports Authority on Twitter, with a picture of Marco Brunelli, the of head of the Italian
league, posing with the GSA chief Turki al Sheikh, smiling from ear to ear wearing oversized
sunglasses. More on him later. But January’s final could prove to be even
more controversial than the deal struck with Colo nel Muammar Gaddafi for the 2002 edition.
Saudi Arabia is a the midst of a cultural revolution that could have profound implications
for the future of the global game. Under the auspices of the country’s young crown prince
Mohammed bin Salman, the conservative Islamic kingdom appears to be opening itself up to
the outside world. The well publicised and much criticised ban on women driving was lifted.
Cinemas were reopened. Saudi’s feared religious police, who would arrest and pursue women
who they viewed as dressing immodestly, were stripped of many of their powers. But one of the biggest changes of all came
in sport. A ban on women attending matches was lifted but this was but the tip of the
iceberg. Saudi Arabia has been investing billions of pounds in sport and especially football,
seeing it as a may to both soften its image and – with one eye on the successes of its
neighbours Qatar and the UAE – to increase its own soft power and influence. The kingdom
is thought to be the driving force behind a massive proposed $25 billion deal with FIFA
that would completely revolutionise the game and challenge the Champions League for global
supremacy. The kingdom has moved to privatise the clubs that make up its hugely popular
local football league and a multimillion dollar deal was struck with La Liga that saw Saudi’s
top stars move to a handful of clubs in Spain in the hope of getting top level experience
in the run up to the 2018 World Cup (even if the five players that did go barely played
and instead got hammered by Russia in the opening game 5-0, as Russian president Vladimir
Putin, Mohamed bin Salman and FIFA president Gianni Infantino bantered with each other
in the stands). There could even be a Saudi backed purchase of Manchester United on the
cards. But there is a problem. Saudi Arabia is and
remains one of the world’s most uncompromising abusers of human rights despite its attempt
at sportswashing. There is zero democracy. According to the Cornell Law School’s Death
Penalty Database, Saudi Arabia has executed at least 1065 people over the past decade.
There is, effectively, a gender apartheid in the country even after taking into account
the lifting of the ban on women attending games and the ban on driving. Still, in November
both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International revealed they had collected testimonies from
leading women’s rights activists who had recently been arrested in the kingdom and, it is alleged,
tortured. The liberal blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000
lashes for his outspoken online activism. He remains in prison, reportedly in poor health
after receiving his first 50 lashes, along with hundreds of other political prisoners.
But he escaped lightly compared to Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident Saudi Washington Post journalist
and critic of Mohammed bin Salman who was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul,
murdered, dismembered and disposed of by a squad of security personal with links to Mohamed
bin Salman. He quickly acquired the nickname Mohamed Bone Saw and became something of an
international pariah. But there was a time when things were very different.
In 2017 Mohamed bin Salman, the Saudi king’s favourite son, was elevated to the position
of crown prince. He had a new strategy: Vision 2030, a plan to diversify the country from
dependence on its vast oil wealth garnered from the world’s largest oil reserves. The
plan to economically and culturally diversify the country was necessary given that, by one
count, 60 per cent of the population was under 30. And part of this strategy was also about
presenting a new face of Saudi Arabia to the world by previously controversial cultural
issues that were high visible but also easily solved. Sport amongst them. With the strong
support of Donald Trump’s administration in the US as well as Mohamed bin Zayed, the crown
prince of the United Arab Emirates who groomed MBS, Mohamed Bin Salman was feted in the west
as a reformer. Although this didn’t last too long, especially after 200 Saudi elite figures
and businessmen were effectively held in the gilded prison of the Ritz-Carlton hotel on
Riyadh on accusations of corruption and only released, allegedly, after paying billions
of dollars back to the state. Sport, however, can show the world a different
face. In 2017 Infantino travelled to Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi Arabia’s king, as
well as MBS and the GSA head Turki al Sheikh, a key ally of MBS who has spearheaded many
of the reforms within football. In fact Infantino travelled there three times in a year, and
famously sat next to MBS at the opening of the 2018 World Cup. Just before the finals began, Infantino made
a shock proposal to FIFA: a revamped Club World Cup, expanded to include the biggest
European clubs and a direct challenger to UEFA’s Champions League. There was also a
proposal for a global version of UEFA’s Nations League, but the deal, it later emerged, also
included rights to future World Cups and its vast and highly lucrative archive of intellectual
property: videos, photos, computer games, the works. The figure was huge. $25 billion
was far more than FIFA could have hoped to ask for. The current Club World Cup, according
to the New York Times, is worth $100 million at best. The problem was, Infantino would
not disclose to FIFA who was behind the deal due to a non disclosure agreement. But he
still wanted to push through agreement at the FIFA Council, or the deal would be withdrawn.
In the end, the Council said they needed more time, but the deal is still there. It later
emerged that it was being financed by SoftBank, a huge Japanese conglomerate which has strong
ties to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The three have combined to create the world’s
largest tech investment fund. But the full details of the deal remain opaque.
Ever since that knock back Infantino has been trying to allay FIFA’s fears about the deal
whilst giving little away about who was behind it. But then came the killing Khashoggi, which
had an immediate effect. A huge investment conference, dubbed Davos in the Desert, was
due to take place not long afterward the murder. But it was now kryptonite to those with ambitions
of doing business in the Kingdom. One of the figures planing to attend was Avram Glazer,
co-chairman of Manchester United. It was alleged that the visit was a chance to sound out the
possibility of a £4 billion sale of the club to none other than Mohammed bin Salman. But
after the Khashoggi killing, which MBS was heavily implicated in giving the go ahead
for but for which he has strongly denied any involvement with, Glazer pulled out. The killing
also put the brakes on the $25 billion FIFA deal which had been heavily backed by Infantino
but strongly opposed by UEFA’s president Aleksander Čeferin. Infantino was forced to stress that
direct state funds would not be used to pay for the deal but few more details were given. But that isn’t the end of Saudi Arabia’s interest
in the game. The next months will see whether one strategy will come to fruition, namely
the expansion of the Qatar 2022 World Cup to 48 teams. Saudi Arabia and the UAE has
lead a boycott of Qatar on the tenuous grounds that it supports terrorism. The blockade,
as it is known in Qatar, has largely failed but Saudi Arabia and the UAE have made taking
the World Cup away from Qatar a key foreign policy goal. And if they can’t get that, then
to a least force Qatar to share it with them. Such an expansion to 48 teams, at this late
stage, would be almost impossible for Qatar to accommodate, meaning that it would, indeed,
have to shared with other countries. And the most enthusiastic backer of the expansion?
Gianni Infantino himself. In November he addressed the leaders of the G20, the 20 largest economies
in the world, in Argentina. Mohamed bin Salman amongst them. After saying for years that
sports and politics should be separate, Infantino gave a speech that claimed football could
in fact be used to heal social and political divisions. One example? The rift between the
Gulf states. “Maybe, if football makes dreams come true, in 2022 we could also experience
a World Cup in Qatar as well as, why not, some games in other countries of the Arabian
Gulf. But this is another story, hopefully with a happy end. Inshallah!” he said. Later he told The Guardian that expanding
and sharing the World Cup could help bring peace in the Gulf. When asked about Saudi
Arabia hosting matches he said: “if any discussion around the World Cup can help in
any way whatsoever to make the situation evolve in that region, with regard to Saudi Arabia,
it’s a nice impact maybe.” But the ghost of Jamal Khashoggi looms large
with every Saudi investment now, whether it is Manchester United’s strategic partnership
with the GSA signed in 2017 with Turki al Sheikh holding up a Manchester United shirt
with his name on the back, or their alleged proposed takeover
of the club. Manchester City has been strongly criticised
for the role it plays in sportswashing the human rights abuses of the United Arab Emirates.
When the Italian Supercoppa kicks off in Jeddah, it might also be time for football to have
the same conversation about Saudi Arabia.

100 thoughts on “Saudi Arabia: The Secret Power in World Football?

  1. Zero democracy? What about the Bay'a tradintion of electing a tribal representation? Or democracy has to be in the western fashion of putting boxes in schools to count in the middle of a work day to count?

  2. Manchester United could potentially be owned by people responsible of numerous human rights abuses, widespread corruption, multiple killings and terribly sexist policies.

    Me: But will the Glazers be out tho?

  3. Saudi Arabia, kidnaped the leader of Lebanon, dismembered and chopped up a us resident journalists, started an illegal war and starved at least 85,000 kids to death already in Yemen and also left 15 million at risk of starvation and cholera in Yemen. They locked up the woman who fought for their rights to drive. I could keep going…

  4. I love football, but I must admit stories like this have dulled my affections over the years.

    Corruption ruins everything.

  5. Well, after Russia kicked-off the FIFA 2018 world cup by 5 goals against Saudi's nil, I think it's safe to say that the Saudis are a LOSING power of world football and that's NO SECRET! Hopefully they won't even qualify for Qatar 2022 and a better team will have an opportunity to compete!

  6. Tbh I don’t think you should mix it around with politics since everything is subjective. Personally I don’t see anything wrong with Saudi Arabia. A country not having the same values as USA U.K. and France does not make that country “evil”. That’s extremely hypocritical.

  7. Sorry Tifo but you make one of your worst videos.

    Bad research has been done, a lot of wrong informations and no evidence.

    I still support your channel, one bad work is not the end.

    Good luck ?

  8. stop trying to push your racist agenda towards people, football is not about politics and especially not about the politics of other countries.

  9. The amount of comments pointing to Europe just goes to show that this generation is ready to stand up against the human rights abuse in their own countries. Maybe Europe should start maintaining an isolationist attitude towards the 3rd world. Sometimes it feels like it will simply take too much time before people evolve their mindset.

  10. No mention of the horrific starvation of the Yemeni people by the Saudis with British help only the pro Saudi government journalists who got killed….this channel is starting to become a propaganda channel

  11. Incredible channel, top journalism and better ability to communicate the topic than any major news outlet. Well done guys at Tifo. Keep doing your thing!!

  12. Jamal Khashoggi is one man. His killing was terrible, yes but what's far worse, and often overlooked is Saudi's hideous war crimes in Yemen, including the famine. That alone should be enough to geopolitically isolate this barbaric country.

  13. Wtf Turki Al alSheik was never a private bodyguard. He belongs to one of Saudis elite families and was a successful business before working in the government. To say that he was a bodyguard and came out of nowhere is completely false. There’s seems to be a pattern of misinformation regarding affairs related to Saudi Arabia in numerous videos, on this channel.

  14. Another fantastic video – thanks. Just a small comment – I was already thinking about the possibility of contributing financially before the message at the end of this video. I clicked on the link and had a look but I just wanted to say, would you be able to include a Patreon option? I contribute to four other YouTube channels through Patreon and due to logistical and flexibility issues I think it would be great if Tifo could do the same. I'm not going to lie – the £5/ month is a stumbling block, not because I don't think your videos are anything less than excellent, rather I'm already paying £12/month for the other four channels and I'd like the option to contribute a couple of pounds less than the default YouTube option. Hope you understand and consider this, and keep up the great work.

  15. I like your channel. Good researched stuff you bring up in your videos. I particularly liked the Qatar hosting the world cup issue you brought up. You highlighted the human rights violations by Qatar and many other things. I applaud you for that. But I ask you a simple question, Are you planning to make a video about The U.S hosting the world cup? I mean those Saudis, Qatari are evil you tried to prove as much as you can and I agree with you. But it seems a little odd not to mention the U.S of wrong doing in middle east. I mean when the Nazis made a branch in France using French people they were also called Nazis. Those French monsters got their weapons and support from the Nazis. Same like the U.S, U.K, Saudi, Israel and So many other dictators in middle east do right now. So what bothers you to call out those Western leaders who wears white hats and call themselves saints. why not come straight forward and call a spade a spade. I hope that you read my comment and make a conscious decision.

  16. The US government has executed at least 1058 people over the past decade
    Is this makes America against human rights if not why you mentioned that Saudi Arabia still has the death penalty also you said that Saudi Arabia has zero democracy Will that's a big mistake we have Municipal elections every 4 years also you need to know that as a Saudi citizen I have the right to criticize anything I want except the religion and the king at the end I hope that I correct you

    Feel free to ask me about Saudi Arabia

  17. The sooner the hypocrites of The West turn their back on the heartless, blood-thirsty, inhumane thugs (Saudi Arabia and its neighbours), the better it'll be for society to make a statement that their disgraceful shameful behaviour won't be accepted. But it seems that Infantino is just a younger version of the corrupted Blatter.

  18. Thanks for this video.
    It should be shown to many European and Western politicians that still make any business with these countries that support terrorism, kill innocent civilians in Yemen and haven't got any laws or rules about human rights and democracy principles.

  19. As a Manchester United fan, I would rather have the Glazers take out our money from the club as profits of their own rather than have this dirty oil money! I dont want anything to do with this oil money. I would rather win no trophies for 20 years than to win trophies with this dirty money.

  20. Infantino & FIFA are monsters and hypocrites let's just hope Qatar doesn't share it's World Cup and this 48 team nonsense is left alone

  21. Good day, TIFO football. Your videos are educational. I would like to suggest possible topics on Philippine Football like HOW DOMESTIC PHILIPPINE FOOTBALL CAN FINALLY LAST FOR A LONG TIME or WHY PHILIPPINE FOOTBALL AIN'T BIG YET. Thank you and more powerl

  22. Amazing work, done by your channel. As a football agent I can honestly say your work/reporting is both accurate and insightful. Keep it up!

  23. Any dictator can be a bad somehow.. but because he is an Arabian he faces a lot of problems..I am a supporter of sporting activities in the Arabian Gulf. They are very wealthy and they are peaceful people. The cartel of the big leagues and UEFA does not want that. They wants the money to be traveling in Europe. That will not last.

  24. I can't bring myself to keeping watching this Islamophobic channel, maybe you should read a little or at least something about the religion of Islam before judging us

  25. I wish you just find out who killed Princess Diana thin give us a lesson about democracy ?? by the way with due respect // I THINK AND FOR SURE YOU WERE paid 500 STERLING BY THE QATARIES JUST TO BE AN ASS


  27. I don't get why people call others who have broken laws in a country and got caught activists, they're criminals.. a country has guidelines on what you can and can't put online and if you don't follow these laws then it doesn't matter what you classify the person as, it's a criminal offense

  28. How can we trust a channel that can't even put the biases aside to make videos about football? This is the 50th video where you act like you're indifferent at the beginning and then a quarter of the way through, your true colors show. Absolutely disgusting and you guys are a bunch of sheep for actually making it.

  29. what this video says is all lies, and its presenter isn't sufficient to talk about politics and human rights and stuff that don't relate to football as he doesn't have experience and credible resources. Much of what western media shows about Saudi Arabia is lies and hatred so don't trust them. You should reconsider this video.

  30. thank you for bringing up the light toward KSA and as I'm a teacher and your videos helped me a lot in coaching and training my students. I really appreciate your hard work.

  31. To clarify about the1,065 people's was excuted in ksa, most of them was a killers in homicide, in islam when you kill ancient Intentionally there are three options depending on the judge and the victim family forgiveness,1- death-penalty, 2_ financial settlement, 3_ forgiveness, second reason supporting terrorist group by money or recruiting death penalty, thirdly trafficking huge amount of drugs death penalty, so this number has nothing to do with the free of speech, accept for insulting god ,prophets and other religions preaching. To have a society without hatred between them give the killers and rapist the justice they deserve.

  32. Islamic football incoming. Rules:
    1. If you dive your legs should be chopped off on the scene (unless you are a Saudi olayer)
    2. Games should be halted should they coincide with Azzan. The Mullin call to prayer).
    3. Players with beards shorter than 25cm are automatically disqualified.
    4. After scoring a goal players shall wave the Saudi flag and chant Allahu akbar
    5. Footballers married to less than e wives are automatically disqualified for life (This one I'm sure will prove popular)

  33. It’s so funny how delusional the Saudis are. They take very small steps to give women SOME rights and think it will make everything ok internationally. Fuck Saudi Arabia and fuck religious fundamentalism of any stripe. Religious fundamentalism is a malignant cancer and will be the end of us all.

  34. Tifo is one of the best YouTube channels on YouTube. Enjoy the Twitter page and the podcast too. Keep it up ??

  35. You should know before why they were executed 2:37 .Because Saudi Arabia in the period of Osama bin Laden The United Nations asked Saudi Arabia To stop the executions & When saudi stopped. Terrorist attack is happen in September 11

  36. Great video first!

    Secondly,arabian money is just poisoning the game more n more. Maybe the game itself was on that way,but that money which came into the game so quickly,worsened the situtation. Today,unless you are in top flight,you cant Challenge teams like city. And Ajax is just an exception. The margins between rich n poor teams are getting much wider.

    Saudi Arabia can be called as little USA in middle east,as they have a Real power. And they wont change,KSA will lead abusing human rights,whatever they say.

    İnfantino is just a corrupt guy,like platini,nothing more.

  37. Saudiaramco divestment slowly trickles down into all investments under the sun. Football is just another investment. FIFA directors, like all polititians, first denounce and then get paid by the investors. Some times its plain old bribes, most of the time is taxes.

  38. Tifo is amazing. The content and connections they make are remarkable. There's a good and bad in anything. When that journalist was killed , the good thing , finally it had repercussions all over the world (how many died and buried and no one would have a shred of Information about it. Both Manchester clubs are starting to disgust me. Not only Saudi Arabia but Qatar as well is really shady, a lot of Bangladesh workers died in Inhumane conditions building stadiums. I think football can bring the western eye and agencies more into the un regulated Arabian gulf without a doubt, possibly striking peace deals, but it seems utopic, since money talks and everything they touch they corrupt. I agree with the club world cup being improved. It has been a useless competition, and it could be way more improved. Just wished it wasn't with public or Saudi money. Ask Putin lol.

  39. Yet Arab money is subsidizing top European football team…with oil money they get from USA military… How farking hypocrite is Western people towards Asian especially Arabs.

  40. A lot of US uni activists would call you Islamophobic for telling the truth in this video. A lot of universities there are 'donated' huge amounts of money from Islamic countries for seemingly nothing. Seemingly. And look what happened with the pre and post 9/11 view of Islam since then. People are banned on Fb if they say things like those in this video. Kudos for the Tifo team.

  41. Well if you know anything you get executed for murder you fucking potato
    Also the people that where arrested in the ritz Carlton has ties with isil and the supposed Muslim brotherhood

  42. LOL I love how this guy mentions trump but failed to mention that Clinton took tons of money from saudis.. stupid sjw

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