27 September 2023
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DUBAI: Saudi Arabia intends to offer several sports clubs for privatisation starting in the fourth quarter, state news agency SPA said on Monday, breathing new life into a plan that forms part of an ambitious economic agenda to reduce reliance on oil.

The plan, launched by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will approve investments by major companies and development agencies in sports clubs in exchange for ownership transfer, the agency said.

The proposal will offer a number of sports clubs for privatisation, starting from the last quarter of 2023, a statement carried by the state media said, without specifying how many clubs will be privatised.

Sports is one of the pillars of the government’s Vision 2030 economic diversification plan that seeks to build new industries and create jobs.

The project has a major focus on soccer, the country’s national sport, as per the statement.

The government had approved plans to turn state-owned sports clubs into private companies in late 2016. In February 2017, sources told Reuters Saudi Arabia had hired local private investment bank Jadwa Investment to advise on the privatisation of as many as five soccer clubs.

But in early 2019, the then-head of the country’s football federation said: “I don’t know whether it will be 2020 or 2022 until the plan is ready.”

Meanwhile, the kingdom has poured money into raising its soccer standing. Its sovereign wealth fund, PIF, at the centre of Vision 2030, led a consortium to buy Premier League side Newcastle United in October 2021.

The league has also attracted some of the sport’s most decorated players.

At the end of last year, Portuguese soccer great Cristiano Ronaldo joined Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr.

Last month, a source close to Argentina captain Lionel Messi – Ronaldo’s rival for the title of best player of his generation – told Reuters that he had received a formal offer to join Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal next season.

And on Sunday, Saudi state media reported club Al Ittihad reached an agreement with French striker Karim Benzema for a two-year deal.

The kingdom aims for the league’s revenue to rise to 1.8 billion riyals ($480 million) from 450 million riyals annually by 2030, the SPA said.

It expects the league’s market value to reach 8 billion riyals from around 3 billion riyals during the same period.

($1 = 3.7502 riyals)

Abdul Gh Lone