James M. Dorsey with Karim Zidan

Gulf States like Saudi Arabia and Qatar dominate sports headlines, particularly when it comes to football and golf. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s sports ambitions seem to know no limits. He’s paying unprecedented sums of money to hire many of the world’s top players, like Christiano Ronaldo and Neymar, in a bid to turn the Saudi Pro League into one of the world’s top soccer competitions. Most recently, Saudi Arabia set eyes on Egyptian born top Liverpool player, Mohamed Saleh. The buying spree follows the controversial acquisition in 2021 of Newcastle United by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Moreover, Mr. Bin Salman has muscled his way into golf with the merger of PGA Tour, the organiser of the sports top events, and the Saudi backed upstart, Live Gulf.

Not to be left behind, a member of the Qatari ruling family is bidding $9 billion to acquire Manchester United. If the sale goes through, it would turn the Manchester Derby into a dual between the Gulf State and the United Arab Emirates, long, a critic of Guty policies and the owner of Manchester City.

All of this raises a host of questions. Why are Gulf States willing to invest huge amounts in sports? Will Gulf money change sports like football? Should states be allowed to control sports clubs or are they vital parts of civil society that should be shielded from encroachment by the state? Should democracies make human rights a qualifying condition for club ownership would to do so be hypocritical at a time that European and US adherence to human rights is backsliding. To discuss this and much more, I’m joined by Kareem Zidan, an acclaimed journalist whose Sports Politika Substack column covers the nexus of sports, politics and society.

To watch a video version of this story on YouTube please click here. A podcast version is available on Soundcloud. A Transcript is available at The Turbulent World with James M. Dorsey

By James M. Dorsey

is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.