IF the takeover of Newcastle United was one of the first steps in Saudi Arabia’s journey to the heart of world sport, it is safe to say that things have progressed rather rapidly in the year-and-a-half since the nation’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) became majority owners at St James’ Park. In fact, Saudi Arabian investment has turned the sporting world upside down in just the last seven days.

First, there was the announcement that the PIF had assumed ownership of Saudi Arabia’s four biggest clubs, pledging to turn them into major players in world football. Then, as if to prove that point, there was the news that World Player of the Year Karim Benzema was swapping Real Madrid to join Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia with Al-Ittihad. Lionel Messi didn’t join Benzema in the Gulf, preferring instead to head to Inter Miami, but the fact that the Saudi Arabian authorities were actively pitching for him provided further proof of their growing influence.

All of that paled into relative insignificance, however, alongside the shock announcement that the PIF were at the heart of a truce between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf that effectively makes Saudi Arabia the de facto controllers of world golf. PIF head, Yasir al-Rumayyan, who is also the chairman of Newcastle United, will be the head of a new body that will run the world game.

Every day seems to bring a seismic new development, but what is Saudi Arabia’s end game when it comes to throwing money at sport? And honing in on a North-East perspective, what does all of that mean for Newcastle United?

Whether you believe in the power of sportswashing or not, the benefits of Saudi Arabian investment in sport have become increasingly obvious in the last few years. Having such a significant footprint in elite sport conveys a sense of respectability, acceptance and soft power that would otherwise be hard for a state like Saudi Arabia, with a horrendous human rights record and a charge sheet that includes the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and a central role in the ongoing war in Yemen, to attain.

The Saudi authorities reject accusations of sportswashing and insist the ongoing investment in sport is a key part of Mohammed bin Salman’s ‘Vision 2030’ strategy aimed at modernising the kingdom and diversifying the economy to reduce a dependence on the sale of oil. Either way, it is clear that sporting investment is not a passing fad, but is here to stay.


This week’s developments can be seen as part of a much wider policy that has lofty aims. Saudi Arabia wants to host the 2030 World Cup as part of a joint bid that also features Egypt and Greece. It had previously seemed fanciful that they would beat competition from South America (Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile) or the Mediterranean (Spain, Portugal, Morocco) but that is no longer the case.

Saudi Arabia’s rulers would also love to host the 2032 Olympics, becoming the first Middle Eastern nation to stage the Games. The deeper the roots in the world sport, the more likely that is to happen. Suddenly, nothing appears to be off the table. Could Saudi Arabia buy the whole of Formula One? There’s every chance. Could the PIF take over the world’s leading tennis tours? It has already been mooted. Might they buy La Liga, Serie A or perhaps even the Premier League, or set up some sort of global football Super League? Given everything that has happened this week, it is hardly out of the question.

But what does all of that mean for Newcastle? From a Magpies perspective, there are undoubtedly huge positives to Saudi Arabia’s ongoing drive to the heart of world sport. If nothing else, it allays the fear that 2021’s purchase of Newcastle United might have been a testing of the water that could easily have been overturned if investment opportunities in other sectors had become available. Had things developed differently, there was always a risk the PIF would decide their Newcastle project wasn’t working and withdraw their funding as quickly as they had granted it. Now, that looks extremely unlikely.

The Northern Echo: Newcastle United chairman Yasir al-Rumayyan with co-owners Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad GhodoussiNewcastle United chairman Yasir al-Rumayyan with co-owners Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi

In addition, if the Saudi authorities are to become increasingly influential players at the heart of world football, it will surely benefit Newcastle that they will almost certainly want their flagship Premier League club to be at the heart of whatever develops. If the PIF are to fund new projects, new leagues, new formats, it is hard to imagine they will happily allow Newcastle to blend into the background. As the PIF develop their own Saudi Arabia-based clubs, the potential for beneficial tie-ups with Newcastle are obvious. At the moment, all parties insist that is not on the cards. It is not guaranteed to stay that way forever.

There is, however, another assessment of this week’s events that might not be as positive for Newcastle. If Saudi Arabian sporting investment becomes so big and all-consuming, might their ownership of Newcastle become an increasingly peripheral part of their portfolio? Might there come a time, if owning Newcastle was regarded as a conflict of interest, preventing investment in other clubs or leagues, that it would become sensible to sell the Magpies? If running golf, tennis or Formula One becomes much more lucrative, might al-Rumayyan step away from the Newcastle board and suggest that the PIF do the same?

At the moment, there is an obvious allure to owning a Premier League club. But would that still be the case if you could own the whole league?  And what about if pulling Newcastle out of the Premier League was the best way to get a new competition off the ground? How would the club’s fans feel about that?

There are a lot of unknowns. It feels as though Newcastle are currently at the heart of something that has the potential to transform huge swathes of the sporting world, and that should work in their favour as they look to develop. With uncertainty, though, comes risk. And as things stand, there is plenty that remains uncertain.