— Published 8 August 2023

With SRJ Sports Investments, Saudi Arabia steps up to the plate

There can no longer be the slightest doubt: Saudi Arabia wants to establish itself as one of the major players in world sport without delay, ideally straight away. A new Qatar, with ambitions comparable to those of its Gulf neighbour – sport as a soft power tool – and resources at least equivalent.

The latest example is the creation of an investment company dedicated to sport. Its name: SRJ Sports Investments. Its creation was made official on Sunday 6 August in a lengthy press release detailing its objectives and field of action.

According to the official statement, SRJ Sports Investments aims to “accelerate the growth trajectory of the sports sector across Saudi Arabia and the region“. This means sport, from grassroots to elite level, as well as major events. The region in question, the press release insists, is not confined to the Persian Gulf, but extends as far as North Africa.

Still according to the official version, SRJ Sports Investments will invest in “acquiring and creating new sports events IP, commercial rights of popular and prominent sports competitions and hosting major global events in Saudi Arabia.” It is all there. It is hard to get much bigger than this.

Its creation is intended to “strengthen Saudi Arabia’s position as one of the world’s leading destinations for sport and entertainment“. The message is clear: Riyadh wants to follow in Doha’s footsteps. The Saudi giant has already made a start, notably in football, where it shattered the last mercato, but also in Formula 1 and golf.

With its new company, which is supposed to oversee and above all finance its sporting strategy, Saudi Arabia is moving a new pawn forward. SRJ Sports Investments is owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), one of the world’s richest sovereign wealth funds, which was founded in 1971. According to its annual report, published on Sunday 6 August, its assets in 2022 totalled more than €540 billion.

Another point of clarification, which is also important for understanding the firepower of Riyadh’s new sports creation: the PIF, and by extension SRJ Sports Investments, is controlled by Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, who became the kingdom’s crown prince in 2017 and de facto ruler of the country. In 2018, he was ranked as the eighth most powerful person in the world by Forbes magazine.

The press release explains: SRJ Sports Investments “will complement other PIF investments in the sports sector“, one of Saudi Arabia’s priorities under the “Vision 2030” development strategy.

With its new armed wing, Saudi Arabia can aim high. Above all, it can look to the long term. Until now, the kingdom has been shopping in the Asian market. It has won the bid to host the Asian Summer Games in 2034, an event never before staged in Riyadh or the rest of the country. It has also landed – provoking controversy and often ill-informed comments from the Western world – the winter version of the Asian Games. It will be held in 2029 in Trojena, at the heart of the futuristic NEOM project.

Not bad. But Saudi Arabia will not stop there. The kingdom wants more. Its name was mentioned as part of a possible three-headed bid, along with Egypt and Greece, for the 2030 FIFA World Cup. The project was abandoned. Saudi Arabia is now concentrating on the 2034 edition.

The Olympic Games? These are also in Riyadh’s sights. In 2036 at the earliest, and more likely four or eight years later. The country lacks neither patience nor resources.