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Messi business: How ‘sportswashing’ could land Saudi Arabia the 2030 World Cup

By Alex Lawson

16 Dec 2022 · 9 min read

Editor's Note

Saudi Arabia’s plan to “sportswash” its image has seen it muscle in on sports from boxing to golf, the Guardian reports. Now the country has its sights on the 2030 World Cup in a bid to emulate Qatar.

If Lionel Messi lifts the World Cup trophy it will not only represent a victory for Argentina’s diminutive captain but his unlikely new benefactor: Saudi Arabia. The team may have inflicted a shock, humiliating defeat upon Argentina in their opening game of the tournament, but Messi, paid to be an ambassador for Saudi under a reported £25m contract, could deliver a long-term prize worth far more – a chance to emulate Qatar and host the 2030 World Cup.

After the tiny gas-rich emirate won the right to host the World Cup in December 2010, in circumstances mired in controversy, Qatar wrote the playbook on using the soft power of the world’s biggest sporting event to further its aims – from the big spending western brands which come with the tournament to the attempts to improve its image on human rights.

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