Saudi Arabia Seeks to "Sportswash" a Problematic Past, Advocacy Groups Say

Sep 29, 2023

World's Largest Sovereign Wealth Funds

“Whitewashing” a fence is covering it in white paint to hide marks in the wood. And a company can try to “greenwash” its record of pollution by planting a few trees. So what’s it called when Saudi Arabia allegedly attempts to distract the world from its human rights abuses by sinking billions into golf, soccer, and other sports?

The answer: “Sportswashing.”

The term comes from advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch. It has called out the Middle Eastern nation for its alleged abuses. The group has said the Saudis mistreat migrants. It also claims the country abuses women and minorities. And it has also denounced the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. In response to the term, the Saudi crown prince told Fox News he would not shy away from it. He said the country would keep spending on sports if it "is going to increase my GDP by 1%.”  

“I don’t care … call it whatever you want,” he added.

“He's done more than say he doesn’t care," Minky Worden told NBC News. She's Human Rights Watch's director of global initiatives. "He’s really endorsed the idea." Worden believes the crown prince is using sports to cover up its poor record with human rights.

Saudi Arabia’s total spending on sports comes to over $50 billion since 2016. It paid to host the 2023 FIFA Club World Cup soccer tournament. It bought soccer team Newcastle United for $400 million. They play in the English Premier League. And it’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an upstart golf league, LIV. Earlier this year, LIV merged with the PGA.  

Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said Saudi Arabia’s actions weren’t just about sports. He said the country is trying to "buy influence, indeed even take over a cherished American institution to cleanse its public image.”

Reflect: Why do you think countries might invest in sports and other global activities? How does this affect their image and people's opinions of them?

Based on the details in the infographic, which of the following countries has the largest sovereign wealth fund? (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. Qatar
b. Saudi Arabia
c. Kuwait
d. China
For more formative assessments, visit to start a free trial.

News brought to you by The Juice

Start a free trial today