In a wide-ranging interview that aired Wednesday, Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, sat down with Bret Baier of Fox News.
Baier and bin Salman touched on numerous topics, such as relations with Israel and the danger of nuclear weapons, but his comments on sportswashing turned many heads.
“If it’s sportswashing and it improves my gross domestic product (GDP) by 1%, then I will continue doing sportswashing,” bin Salman said in his first interview conducted in English.
“I have 1% GDP growth from sports, and I’m aiming for another 1.5%. Call it whatever you want, [but] we’re going to get that other 1.5%.”
Sportswashing is the act of absolving individuals, corporations, or governments using sports to improve their reputation tarnished by wrongdoing. In this case, that references massive human rights abuses.
In April 2016, bin Salman unveiled ‘Vision 2030,’ Saudi Arabia’s plan to modernize its society, diversify its economy, and become a global player on the world stage.
As part of this plan, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), which reportedly has $720 billion in assets, has invested billions into different sports teams and leagues, most notably LIV Golf and Newcastle United of the English Premier League.
The PIF’s goal is to not only receive a return on its investment but also establish better relations with countries and companies around the world.
They have accomplished that through LIV Golf and Newcastle United. Both entities have seen their profiles increase over recent years.
Especially LIV Golf, which emerged as a rival to the PGA Tour, and threatened the stability of the tour’s future. Hence why the PGA and DP World Tours entered into an agreement with the PIF to try and unite professional golf in the future.
“Focus on the game for players and fans, and that is good for golf,” bin Salman said of the pending deal.
Yet, the Kingdom hopes to use its investment in sports to give outsiders a different perspective of Saudi Arabia—one that has moved away from its inhumane behaviors, such as the dismemberment of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
The Saudi Crown Prince noted that “anyone involved” with Khashoggi’s murder is currently serving prison time and that they “must face the law.”
Nevertheless, that is not the only instance in which Saudi Arabia has been associated with crimes against humanity.
Just last month, Human Rights Watch reported that Saudi border officials murdered Ethiopian migrants at the Yemeni-Saudi border. The hundreds that were killed included children.
Perhaps most famously, 15 of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks were Saudi citizens. Still, bin Salman rejected the notion that the Kingdom played any role in aiding al-Qaeda, which, along with Osama bin Laden, remains an enemy of the Saudi Kingdom.
“Killing Saudis and foreign people at that time in Saudi Arabia, [they are] our enemy, and [they are] the American enemy,” bin Salman said. “It does not make any sense.”
Other reports and de-classified documents suggest otherwise.
But bin Salman is only looking ahead, not at the past. He sees golf playing a massive part in the Saudi economy, which will shift from relying on oil to depending on tourism in the coming decades.
“The greatest success story in the 21st century is Saudi Arabia,” bin Salman said. “This is the story of this century. Do you want to miss it or not? That is your call.”
The Saudi Prince’s plan for absolution through money is clear. He stated as much. Do you think it is going to work? Let us know in the comments.