Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister, has said his government will certainly support any bid from the country’s private sector for Manchester United or Liverpool.
While the Saudi Public Investment Fund backed the purchase of Newcastle United last winter, Prince Abdulaziz said private companies in his country have a strong interest in English football’s most successful clubs, with both banks giving instructions on possible investments or sales.
“From the private sector, I can’t speak for them, but there is a lot of interest and passion for football,” he told BBC Sport. “It’s the most watched league in Saudi Arabia and the region and you have a lot of Premier League fans. We will definitely support it if that’s the case [Saudi] the private sector is coming in as we know it will have a positive impact on sport in the kingdom. If an investor is willing to do this and the numbers are correct, why not?”
The prince also expressed a desire to see Cristiano Ronaldo play in Saudi Arabia. The 37-year-old is a free agent after leaving United this week by mutual agreement and recently stated that he turned down a two-year contract from a Saudi club worth more than £300 million a year in the summer.
“I would like to see Ronaldo play in the Saudi league,” said Prince Abdulaziz. “It would benefit the league, the sports ecosystem in Saudi Arabia and it will inspire the youth for the future. He is a role model for many children and has a large fan base in Saudi Arabia.’
Ronaldo scored in Portugal’s 3-2 victory over Ghana at the World Cup in Qatar on Thursday and Saudi Arabia may itself make a bid to host the tournament. “Who wouldn’t want to host the World Cup?” said the prince. “Every country in the world would love to host the World Cup.”
When hosting major sporting events, including boxing world title fights, Saudi has been accused of sportwashing to deflect criticism of its human rights record. But Prince Abdulaziz claimed that this was positive for the people of his country.
“The numbers don’t lie – if you look at participation in boxing, from six gyms in 2018 to 57 gyms now. A participation increase of 300%, of which 60% women, that was a shock to us. When you see appetite in the youth, men and women, they have learned from it. If it makes the country better and solves a lot of the social problems we have in terms of participation, then that’s a benefit to us,” he said.