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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

‘Sportswashing’ does not cleanse injustice

Amanda Riha
Background photo from Jan S0L0/Wikimedia Commons

The recent star player acquisitions by the Saudi Pro League sounds like a 2010s soccer dream team.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Neymar, Sadio Mané, Kalidou Koulibaly, Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kanté, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Édouard Mendy.

In other words, Saudi Arabia received six Ballon d’Ors, 17 UEFA Champions League trophies, 2,101 career goals and a lot of clout for around a whopping $1.84 billion.

That’s higher than the GDP of 16 individual countries.

The Saudi government chooses to engage in “sportswashing” to deflect attention away from its human rights violations and numerous wrongdoings, which I’ll get to later.

Britannica defines sportswashing as “the use of an athletic event by an individual or a government, a corporation, or another group to promote or burnish the individual’s or group’s reputation, especially amid controversy or scandal.”

Russia recently did it when it hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and with soccer when it hosted the 2018 World Cup. That was also around the time Russia meddled with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and committed non-authorized killings of LGBTQ+ peoples.

Going back nearly 80 years, Nazi Germany engaged in sportswashing when it hosted the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.

You could even argue that Saudi Arabia’s next-door neighbor Qatar used sports to cover its actions when it hosted the 2022 World Cup this past winter.

On top of its awful record of  LGBTQ+ rights, Qatar used migrant workers to build the stadiums for the World Cup and the cities around it, which led to the deaths of at least 50 laborers and about 500 injuries according to the International Labor Organization.

This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time that Saudi Arabia uses its riches to cover up human rights atrocities and injustice permeating throughout the government and country. Saudi Arabia has used its capital to finance or broker deals with some of the most major companies and sports in the world, one of the most prominent examples being LIV Golf.

Originated in 2021 as a competitor to the PGA, LIV Golf broke up the monopoly that was professional golf. Soon, LIV poached some of PGA’s biggest names for truckloads of money.

As quick as a starting pistol, LIV had Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Bubba Watson and Ian Poulter all under its payroll.

The price tag? Approximately $630 million.

Even the WWE signed a nine-figure deal with Saudi Arabia through 2027, bringing it lots of money but simultaneously losing what little part of its moral compass it has left.

Going back to the pitch, arguably the best soccer player ever — Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi — received a $505 million proposal from Saudi Pro League Al-Hilal and current Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe got a combined $1.1 billion dollar offer from the same club too. Both rejected these offers.

For the players and business, it makes perfect sense to partner with Saudi Arabia. All of the players are past their physical primes and have achieved a great deal in their athletic careers, so going to a brand that will pay them an exorbitant amount of money for a couple years of service is the logical thing to do.

A separate and more difficult question to ask is whether it’s the moral thing to do.

I argue it absolutely is not.

Saudi Arabia as a country notoriously has little to no women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights, granted it doesn’t have many basic human rights either.

For example, authorities have a system where men possess complete guardianship over women. It’s legal to completely shut down a woman’s autonomy to marry, divorce and seek higher education, according to Human Rights Watch.

The government also criminalizes premarital sex, gay and lesbian couples and transgender people all together. According to the Human Dignity Trust, those who violate that law could be sentenced to death.

Not to mention the mysterious murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a sharp opponent of Saudi Arabia, who was tortured and murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

It’s okay for a country to spend lots of money on sports — just look at Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ latest contract — but when a corrupt country uses the biggest athletic stars on the planet to repaint the country’s image to the world, it delegitimizes sports and trivializes the heinous things the Saudi government continues to do.

It takes the attention away from the lives the Saudi government has hurt.

Getting Ronaldo or Mickelson won’t get back Khashoggi or wipe the repugnant record of human rights violations.

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Amanda Riha, Design Editor

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