Sports investment: The power of soft power


When the Duke of Wellington, the leader of the English army at Waterloo, was asked the reason behind his victory in the battle, he replied: “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”. Eton College is one of the finest, largest, and richest private schools in Britain and in the world.

Sports have never been just about physical activities. They have been used by many countries to showcase their image and brand on the international scene and to enhance their citizens’ national identity. They are also a significant contributor to increasing income and supporting economies by improving tourism and increasing investment. Therefore, Saudi Vision 2030 pays great attention to sports. One of the key objectives of the vision is to promote the regular practice of sporting activities in the community, with the participation of different age groups, to build a healthy society in Saudi Arabia, achieve excellence in selected sports regionally and globally, and enhance the professional sports sector.

In an attempt to restructure its sports sector, the Saudi government has provided it with a large budget and backed it with clear programs and initiatives with a view for it to fit the new vision. The entire sector has witnessed great progress and development over the past few months since Turki Al-Sheikh was appointed Chairman of the General Sports Authority. I believe that investment in sports and attaining unprecedented levels of professionalism in this sector could help to achieve a number of goals in the years to come.

First of all, it could increase revenues. As Vision 2030 confirmed, the sports sector will be a promising market through which to secure additional income for the state. For example, the London Olympics in 2012 boosted the British economy by £9.9 billion in investment and business. Indeed, one British official report said that by 2020 the total benefits to Britain would be between £28 billion to £41 billion thanks to the hosting of the London Olympics in 2012. Thus, this sector will provide high value for local investment and increase the economic gains of the state.

Secondly, it could promote a culture of tolerance, openness, and acceptance of others. On the one hand, professional employment in sports and the organization of international sporting events will undoubtedly contribute to the promotion of such values in the local Saudi culture. On the other hand, it will change the distorted stereotypical image and reflect the true picture of Saudi Arabia as an open and civilized community that is founded on peace and coexistence with other cultures.

Thirdly, it could provide protection from extremism and terrorism. Last year, a scientific symposium titled “Enhancing the Role of Sports and Cultural Clubs in Raising Awareness of the Threats of Terrorism and Extremism” was held at Naif Arab University for Security Sciences. The symposium was attended by over 100 participants from 12 Arab countries. It was aimed at formulating a scientific strategy to enhance the role of sports and cultural clubs in raising awareness of the threats of terrorism and extremism. So, investment in sports will certainly contribute to enhancing security within society by motivating young people to take part in sports, make the best use of their spare time, and build their personalities physically, psychologically, socially and morally. It will turn them away from extremism and terrorism and entrench the values of competition and tolerance and acceptance of others.

Finally, it will enhance the country’s international reputation. Professional development of the sports sector, optimal investment of resources and expertise, building and activating partnerships to create an attractive and productive sports environment, and hosting of the most important international sports events will unquestionably help to showcase the Saudi image and brand on the international scene. It will create a positive image of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in global public awareness.

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter @Alothaimin