Since the start of this new sporting season, the spotlight has been more on Saudi Arabia. The great power of the Iberian Peninsula has seen the biggest stars of football converge on its soil in recent months.
From Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo to Brazil’s Neymar Junior, France’s Karim Benzema, Algeria’s Riyad Marhez and Senegal’s Sadio Mane, several of the world’s biggest football stars have chosen to join the Saudi Pro League, now one of the most attractive leagues in the world.
To acquire this threshold of prestige, Saudi clubs had to take out the chequebook. During the last summer transfer window, they spent more than €850 million, not counting the astronomical salaries paid to these global stars.
The Saudi Pro League’s plan is to join the Top 10 of the biggest football leagues in the world as soon as possible. To achieve this, the kingdom has called on the Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund (Public Investment Fund) which has acquired 75% of the capital of four clubs (Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli Saudi, Al-Nassr FC, Al-Hilal) which have proven to be the main drivers of the transfer market.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia intends to make sport one of the main levers for the diversification of its economy. In addition to football, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) has also invested heavily in golf, Formula 1 and MMA, acquiring a minority stake in the American PFL league. While the country is officially a candidate to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup, the PIF has announced the creation of a new company to “accelerate the development of the sports sector” in the country, through the hosting and organization of major events.
Saudi Arabia is also concerned about the development of football in Africa. This explains the historic five-year partnership between the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) in May 2023. “The signed Memorandum of Understanding will focus on initiatives relating to technical and football development at club and national team level. It will also look at grassroots football, women’s football, talent scouting, competitions, friendlies and business opportunities,” CAF said.
In the same vein, an agreement has just been signed between CAF and Visit Saudi, the public agency in charge of promoting tourism in Saudi Arabia which becomes the main sponsor of the African Football League (AFL) whose first edition will be played from October 20 to November 11, 2023 between the eight best clubs on the continent.
“The partnership between the African Football League (“AFL”) and Visit Saudi represents an important milestone for African football and Saudi tourism, creating a bridge and partnership between two worlds sharing a deep passion for football CAF said in a statement on Thursday. The continental football governing body is confident that the partnership will have a “positive impact on the development and global competitiveness of African football and Saudi tourism“. Visit Saudi’s sponsorship is a real boost for the African Football League (AFL) which is the most competitive club football competition on the African continent, offering the highest prize money.
Prior to the signing of this partnership between CAF and Visit Saudi for the sponsorship of the African Football League, Saudi Arabia had already hosted the CAF Super Cup match between USM Alger and Al Ahly (1-0), on September 15, 2023.