Saudi Arabia invests in sports as it tries to reshape its world image | 60 Minutes

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The term “sportswashing” may have only become part of the English lexicon in recent years, but the concept of a country using the goodwill of sports to improve a tarnished reputation dates back decades, if not centuries.

Recently, the sportswashing accusation has been levied against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Under his leadership, the non-profit organization, Reprieve, found the rate of executions have nearly doubled. A CIA report also concluded that bin Salman approved an operation that resulted in the 2018 killing and dismemberment of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.

At a time when social freedoms have expanded in Saudi Arabia, political repression has become more severe, according to activist Lina Al-Hathloul. Her sister Loujaine was punished for her activism: arrested, charged with terrorism, and sentenced to prison, where she says she was tortured. Even after her release, she is prevented from leaving the country.

“When we talk about sports, of course we do want to have entertainment in Saudi Arabia,” said Lina. “We do want to have this. But not at the expense of– of our freedoms. We don’t want to be living in fear and not knowing if tomorrow– they will break into our house– and take our sister or– our daughter.”

“There is a lot of issues with a lot of countries,” said Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Sports, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turkey Al Saud, told 60 Minutes correspondent Jon Wertheim on Sunday’s broadcast. Wertheim interviewed Abdulaziz in the Saudi capital Riyadh, and asked the prince if he believes in sportswashing and a country’s ability to use sport to repair its image.

“Not at all. I don’t agree with that term. Because I think that if you go to different parts of the world then you bring people together,” Abdulaziz said. “Everyone should come, see Saudi Arabia, see it for what it is, and then make your decision. See it for yourself. If you don’t like it, fine.”

In recent years Saudi Arabia has invested roughly $7 trillion in what is calls “Vision 2030,” a multipronged initiative that will attempt to integrate sports and entertainment into the country’s culture. and diversify its oil-reliant economy.

Since 2019, the country has hosted a heavyweight boxing match, multiple Formula 1 events, and the world’s most lucrative horse race. Money from the nation’s massive sovereign wealth fund was also used to purchase Newcastle United, a soccer team in the top-flight English Premier League, and to launch LIV Golf, an upstart PGA Tour competitor that lured some of golf’s top stars. Earlier this month, the PGA and LIV merged, stunning the sporting world, and securing the Saudis a foothold in the sport.

“We’re not saying that we’re perfect, but what I’m trying to say is that these things help us to achieve a better future for our population,” Prince Abdulaziz told Wertheim back in April..

You can watch Jon Wertheim’s full report, “Sportswashing,” below.

Saudi Arabia becomes unlikely sports hub amid sportswashing accusations | 60 Minutes

The video at the top was originally published on April 9, 2023 and was produced by Keith Zubrow and edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.

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