Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister, has said his government would definitely support any private sector bids from the country for Manchester United or Liverpool.
While the Saudi Public Investment Fund backed the purchase of Newcastle United last winter, Prince Abdulaziz said private businesses in his country have a strong interest in English football’s most successful clubs, with both instructing banks regarding potential investment or sale.
“From the private sector, I can’t speak on their behalf, but there is a lot of interest and appetite and passion about football,” he told BBC Sport. “It’s the most-watched league in Saudi and the region and you have a lot of fans of the Premier League. We will definitely support it if any [Saudi] private sector comes in, because we know that’s going to reflect positively on sports within the kingdom. If there’s an investor willing to do so and the numbers add up, why not?”
The prince also stated a wish to see Cristiano Ronaldo play in Saudi. The 37-year-old is a free agent after leaving United by mutual agreement this week and he recently stated that he turned down a two-year deal in the summer worth more than £300m a year from a Saudi club.
“I would love to see Ronaldo play in the Saudi league,” said Prince Abdulaziz. “It would benefit the league, the sports eco-system in Saudi and will inspire the youth for the future. He’s a role model to a lot of kids and has a big fanbase in Saudi.”
Ronaldo scored in Portugal’s 3-2 win over Ghana at the Qatar World Cup on Thursday and Saudi may make its own bid to host the tournament. “Who wouldn’t want to host the World Cup?” the prince said. “Any country in the world would love to host the World Cup.”
In hosting major sporting events including boxing world title fights Saudi has been accused of sportwashing to deflect criticism of its record on human rights. But Prince Abdulaziz claimed doing so has been positive for his nation’s people.
“The numbers don’t lie – when you look at participation in boxing, from six gyms in 2018 to 57 gyms today. A 300% participation increase, 60% are women, which was a shock for us. When you see appetite from the youth, men and women, they learned from it. If it’s making the country better and fixing a lot of the social issues we have in terms of participation then that’s a benefit for us,” he said.