All Saudi top-tier football clubs to go private: ministry

The Saudi Pro League’s remaining 14 football clubs are up for privatisation, the sports ministry said, after the sale of four top teams sparked a billion-dollar spending spree on foreign stars.

Six more clubs from the 18-strong league are available for privatisation next month, followed by the other eight “at a later stage”, a statement said late on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the top oil exporter’s sovereign wealth vehicle, took a majority stake in Al Hilal, Al Nassr, Al Ahli and Al Ittihad last year.

The four clubs have signed superstars including Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar on eye-watering contracts.

Saudi clubs, led by the four owned by PIF, spent $957 million in last year’s summer transfer window, second only to the English Premier League.

However, it resulted in a lop-sided season highlighted by Al Hilal’s top-flight world record of 34 straight wins in all competitions.

Al Zulfi, Al Nahda, Al Okhdood, Al Ansar, Al Orouba and Al Kholoud were selected for the next round in August based on their “operational readiness, financial health, administrative capabilities, and athletic facilities”, the ministry said.

READ | Going the Ronaldo way? Players from Saudi Pro League to feature in EURO 2024 and Copa America

It said the initial privatisations had prompted “significant commercial revenue growth”, with the target now raised to 1.8 billion Saudi riyals ($480 million) a year.

“This (privatisation) initiative showcases the commitment to accelerating the transformation of the sports sector,” the statement said.

The conservative kingdom is investing heavily in sport as it tries to reshape its staid image and attract tourists and investment to diversify its oil-reliant economy.

Saudi Arabia, which already hosts F1 races and world heavyweight boxing fights, is the sole bidder for the 2034 football World Cup and funds the LIV Tour that has upended professional golf.

Saudi money has “completely changed the market” for football transfers, Pep Guardiola, manager of English champions Manchester City, said last year.

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