Aside from the increasing media attention towards the World Cup in Qatar, one of the most important international sports stories of the year, certainly for this region, broke last week in the world’s financial pages. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Gulf states will see increased oil and gas revenues of up to $1.3 trillion over the next four years, driven by high energy prices. That increased revenue will greatly boost sovereign wealth funds and with it the likelihood of a much larger regional role in premier international sports competitions, and especially football, and the Olympics.
That potential is in significant part because of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and its consequences for the global economy. Russia will not be hosting any major international sporting events in the foreseeable future, China is experiencing its own economic contraction, and the rest of the world is dealing with high inflation, surging energy prices, and fears of recession. The next few iterations of the Olympics and the World Cup will be held in Europe, North America, and Australia, but down the road the Gulf states will be the most likely hosts for these very expensive competitions.
Saudi Arabia, for example, has in the last few years focused on developing its domestic sports market with investments in e-sports, Formula 1 racing, World Wrestling Entertainment, and golf. Now it is growing its international portfolio. Last year (2021) the country’s sovereign wealth fund purchased Newcastle United in the English Premier League after an earlier bid was rebuffed. For the past few months, the Kingdom has turned professional golf on its head by launching LIV Golf, a tournament that has used massive payouts to lure away some of the world’s best players from the US-based Professional Golf Association, which currently accounts for more than half of the sport’s global rights value. Earlier this month, the Kingdom announced plans for a joint bid with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup, and, last week, Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal Al Saud said the country’s “ultimate goal” is to host the Olympics.
Along with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia will be among the few countries that can afford these ambitions. According to the IMF, the kingdom will be one of the world’s fastest growing economies next year, with growth estimated at 7.6 percent and inflation contained at 2.8 percent. Bloomberg estimates that the country’s sovereign wealth fund, currently estimated at $620 billion, will grow to $2 trillion by 2030. That will buy a lot of football, far into the future.
Article by Craig LaMay, journalist and professor, and director of the journalism program at Northwestern University in Qatar.
Craig LaMay is a journalist. He is currently a professor and director of the journalism program at Northwestern University in Qatar, where he has also served as dean and women’s basketball coach.
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