Oil, Sports and Human Rights

Saudi Arabia, is the 19th largest economy in the world, with over One Trillion Dollars in GDP. But is the country’s GDP sustainable? Let us find out.

History of the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia has a rich and complex history, but in it’s modern form, we must go back to the 1900s. When Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud united his dominions of Hejaz and Nejd into one modern entity, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, he believed that the Kingdom had oil. At the time, critics brushed this aside as just a desperate belief of the ruler of a useless wasteland. But on March 3rd, 1938- Standard Oil of California struck oil. As it turned out, this barren wasteland was not such a wasteland after all.

Cracks in the System: But over time, cracks in the system began to show their ugly faces. Overdependence on oil led to the collapse of the economy whenever oil prices fell. Since Fossil Fuels are non-renewable, the country may become a barren waste again if they do not diversify. And in the 1980s, Burning Fossil Fuels had been pointed out as a direct cause of Global Warming. The KSA and the Middle East in general faces a water problem. The Kingdom has no natural rivers and relies on desalinated water, which is expensive to purify.

Human Rights: The Kingdom also has a long history of human rights violations. Despite condemning Israel for such violations, the KSA has forgotten to look at it’s own track record. These include mass executions of enemies of the monarchy, murdering journalists, banning protests and many more. Let us call back to the infamous case of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist working for the Washington Post. He fled Saudi Arabia to Turkey and began criticizing the government. In October 2018, he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and never walked out. He was killed, and his body was cut into pieces. And lastly, despite being foreshadowed by bigger conflicts, we must remember the war in Yemen, including multiple bombings of civilians in places like Markets, Hospitals and Houses.

But how can the Kingdom solve this problem?

The KSA and Football: On January 1st, 2023, Christiano Ronaldo left Manchester United, moving to a rather unknown Saudi Club, called Al-Nassr. Players like Neymar and Benzema also moved to the country. In other words, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has adopted sports to polish it’s image and survive in the 21st Century.

This can be considered “Sportswashing,” a type of propaganda. Every time a country is accused of doing terrible things, they use sports to clean their image. It happened in both Russia and Qatar. A classic example of the same is NAZI Germany, who hosted the 1936 Olympics to portray itself as a modern, peaceful and progressive nation. It is not just football- they also invested in racing and golf. Sports and tourism improve the economy, as more jobs are created, and tourists spend money.

Problems with Sportswashing: But, there are a few problems. We will never forget the human rights violations in Yemen, and therefore, liberal tourists may view going to Saudi Arabia as “helping war crimes.” It has also taken over one hundred years for Europe to build a sustainable football environment, and just buying out the best players cannot substitute that. The country must first create a sporting culture in it’s country. Also, both sports and tourism require a lot of water, which the Kingdom lacks.

My Take on the issue

In my opinion, the KSA must get a few things right:

  1. Human Rights and Laws- the country must start Liberalizing like the UAE and Singapore. The country must stay to it’s roots, but that does not stop it from gliding
  2. Water- There must be a better way for the Kingdom to get water. It can be through importing water, making artificial lakes and river, or any other method.
  3. Dependency on Oil- Oil must only become a tiny part of the economy.

Only time will tell if Saudi Arabia survives the century.

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