Saudi crown prince says he will keep ‘sportswashing’ as criticism of the practice grows

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman embraced accusations of “sportswashing” during a Fox News interview that aired Wednesday night.

“Well, if sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by way of 1%, I will continue doing sportswashing,” he said during the interview.

The Saudi government has been under fire for its broad investment in sports, with critics speculating its part of a larger effort to use sportswashing to gain international influence.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman embraced accusations of “sportswashing” to rehabilitate the country’s image, as the kingdom beefs up its spending and influence in the major international sports of golf and soccer.

“Well, if sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by way of 1%, I will continue doing sportswashing,” he said during an interview with Fox News that aired Wednesday night.

“I don’t care ... I’m aiming for another one and a half percent. Call it whatever you want, we’re going to get that one and a half percent,” the crown prince said.

Critics have long said that Saudi Arabia’s government is using sports investments to gain political influence around the world, as well as to mend the kingdom’s tarnished reputation from human rights abuses like the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The practice has been dubbed sportswashing.

The kingdom has ramped up investments in sports in recent years, taking stakes in Saudi soccer clubs and recruiting top players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar from Europe to Saudi Arabia with deals reportedly as high as $175 million.

It also lured pro golfers like Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau away from the PGA Tour to its rival LIV Golf with massive paydays — before the organizations ultimately agreed to merge.