The term “sportwashing” may have become part of the English lexicon in recent years, but the concept of a country using sporting goodwill to repair a bad reputation is decades if not centuries old.
More recently, allegations of sportswashing have been leveled against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Under his leadership, the non-profit organization, truce, found that the execution rate nearly doubled. A CIA report It also concluded that bin Salman approved an operation that resulted in the murder and mutilation of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
According to activist Lina al-Hathloul, at a time when social freedoms have expanded in Saudi Arabia, political repression has become more severe. Her sister, Luzen, was punished for her activism: arrested, charged with terrorism, and sentenced to prison, where she says she was tortured. Even after his release, he has been prevented from leaving the country.
“When we talk about sports, of course we want to entertain in Saudi Arabia,” Lina said. “We want to have it. But not at the cost of our freedom. We don’t want to live in fear and not know that tomorrow — they’ll break into our house — and take our sister — our daughter.”
“There are a lot of issues with many countries,” Saudi Arabia’s sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Saud told 60 Minutes correspondent John Wertheim on Sunday’s broadcast. Wertheim interviewed Abdulaziz in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and asked the prince whether he believed in sportswashing and the country’s ability to use sports to repair its image.
Abdulaziz said, “Not at all. I don’t agree with that term. Because I think if you go to different parts of the world you bring people together.” “Everyone should come, see Saudi Arabia, see it for what it is, and then make your own decision. See it for yourself. If you don’t like it, that’s okay.”
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has invested nearly $7 trillion in “Vision 2030”, a multi-faceted initiative that will seek to integrate sports and entertainment into the country’s culture. and diversify its oil-dependent economy.
Since 2019, the country has hosted a heavyweight boxing match, several Formula 1 events, and the world’s most lucrative horse race. Money from the country’s massive sovereign wealth fund was also used to buy Newcastle United, the top English Premier League football team, and launch LIV Golf, an advanced PGA Tour competitor that has attracted some of golf’s top stars. Earlier this month, the PGA and LIV merged, surprising the sports world and helping the Saudis gain a foothold in the sport.
“We are not saying that we are perfect, but what I am trying to say is that these things help us to achieve a better future for our population,” Prince Abdulaziz told Wertheim in April.
You can watch John Wertheim’s full report, “Sportswashing,” below.
The video at top was originally published on April 9, 2023 and was produced by Keith Zubrow and edited by Sarah Schaefer Prediger.