The story has spread around the world, but it deserves to be told again. It’s a well-executed operation, both sly and sarcastic. The biggest winner: Saudi Arabia, which on October 4 achieved its biggest victory since investing heavily in professional sports.
We know that the Kingdom is doubling down on its successes in this sector: creating LIV Golf, hiring top footballers, partnering with Formula 1… but nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than the decisions announced that day.
FIFA has announced that Spain, Portugal and Morocco will jointly host the 2030 World Cup. To celebrate the competition’s centenary, Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay will each host a match.
So far, so good, except for what’s obvious on an environmental level with all these trips. However, what follows is written quite easily.
FIFA continues to reveal the criteria for awarding the 2034 World Cup. Only member states of the Asian and Oceania Confederations are eligible, as the other four countries will host the 2026 and 2030 World Cup matches.
That’s not all: those interested will have to raise their hands by October 31st at the latest, in less than a month! Let’s remember that we are talking here about one of the two biggest sporting events on the planet: the Olympic Games. The budget is enormous, as are the logistical challenges.
Regardless, Saudi Arabia confirmed its interest in the following minutes. Australia, which was evaluating the idea, realizes that the matter has been heard and abandons its ambitions. “We were a bit surprised,” the Australian rules football grandmaster later declared, which was certainly the understatement of the year.
At its conference next fall, FIFA is scheduled to officially grant Saudi Arabia the right to organize the 2034 World Cup. Should we be surprised? impossible !
Its president, Gianni Infantino, has long desired this connection with the Kingdom, as he recently explained The New York Times. His attempts in 2030 did not succeed, so he resumed it in 2034, without leaving room for potential competing countries.
What about respect for human rights in the host country, you ask? Sorry, this has no effect. In the world of international sports, Saudi Arabia is now a powerhouse with petrodollars that hold an irresistible appeal.
However, at the end of the year, Saudi Arabia faces a golf-related difficulty.
The plan to merge LIV Golf’s business activities with those of the PGA, announced last June, has not yet been finalized. The two sides have until December 31 to finalize the agreement, but the deadline can be extended.
US authorities are investigating this connection. I remind you that LIV Golf is affiliated with the Saudi Public Investment Fund. Media reports also indicated that Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Penguins and Liverpool clubs in the English Premier League, would be prepared to invest heavily in the project at the expense of the Saudis in whole or in part.
On a sporting level, barring a surprise, a merger of LIV Golf and PGA is not out of the question in the short term.
Hoping to restore its image with players, PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan announced significant changes to the 2024 calendar: eight “premium” tournaments will be reserved for a limited group of participants. Three of them will offer a purse worth US$4 million to the winner.
The FedEx Cup champion will receive $25 million, $7 million more than this year.
However, Monahan will have a lot of work to do to regain his credibility. Many of the headliners on the circuit have not forgiven him for having secretly negotiated with the Saudis after demolishing LIV Golf in the public square for months.
Shaken by this criticism, Monahan took a month’s medical leave over the summer before returning to work.
At the request of his colleagues, Tiger Woods became involved in the governance of the PGA by becoming a member of its Steering Board. On the other hand, Rory McIlroy, who defended the PGA with all his might before the agreement with the Saudis, resigned. We are disappointed that he took this announcement so poorly.
McIlroy cited family, sporting and business reasons to explain his choice. He and Woods have particularly invested in an indoor golf project where teams of professionals will compete on a massive, state-of-the-art simulator. The start of activities scheduled for next January was delayed for a year due to a technical problem in building the dome on which the matches will be held.
Meanwhile, LIV Golf is preparing for its third season of existence. The department suffered a major setback when the organization responsible for the global classification (OWGR) rejected its request for integration.
Therefore, the results obtained in LIV tournaments are not worth any points to their players. This reduces their chances of qualifying for major tournaments, unless they actually win them.
The ring is successful in Australia, but it does not receive much attention elsewhere in the world. And he still doesn’t have a lucrative television contract.
On the other hand, with its huge money, LIV Golf will continue to trouble the PGA until the day, which is undoubtedly inevitable, when a real merger occurs.
By then, Saudi Arabia will increase its influence in international sports. Like the rest of the countries in the region. Last June, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund bought a 5% stake in the parent company of the Washington Capitals and Wizards, its first move into team sports in North America.
The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia has certainly taken this into account.
sources: Watchman, New York times, Sports Illustrated
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