Play the Game publishes dataset that maps the network of actors behind Saudi Arabia's sports strategy
Researchers at Play the Game have compiled a dataset that allows anyone to explore the scale and network behind Saudi Arabia's sports political strategy. It maps 795 positions in 156 Saudi entities and more than 300 Saudi sponsorships in sport.
After months of painstaking work, researchers from Play the Game have put together the first thorough overview of the people and organisations that drive the sports strategy of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia's sports strategy is one of the hottest topics in world sport today where the country is the only confirmed bidder for hosting the 2034 FIFA World Cup in men's football. But despite all the talk about the involvement and investments made by the Saudi regime and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, little is known about the other actors that play important roles in furthering Saudi Arabia's influence in international sport.
The dataset 'Sports power relations in Saudi Arabia' aims to plug this knowledge gap by mapping 795 positions held by key Saudi decision-makers in 156 different Saudi Arabian entities. The mapping exercise documents an extensive network of actors but also shows that the real power is concentrated in very few hands.
"Saudi Arabia's sports strategy is run by a small group of individuals that hold important positions inside and outside sport at the same time. This situation creates many conflicts of interest, but also shows that sports leaders in Saudi Arabia operate on a completely different basis from sport leaders in democratic organisations as they have the power and means to make economic and political decisions in other organisations, too," says Stanis Elsborg, who is a senior analyst in Play the Game.
Examples of Saudi sports leaders include Princess Reema who is a member of the International Olympic Committee in addition to being Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, the Saudi minister of sport who is also a member of the national Olympic committee, and the minister of tourism who is also a key figure in Visit Saudi that has a wide range of sponsorships in the world of sport.
Use the dataset as a basis for new investigations
Elsborg details the positions held by a handful of key players in the analysis 'The power players behind Saudi Arabia's sports strategy' that is also available on Play the Game's website.
Play the Game has decided to make the dataset publicly available so journalists, academics, and other researchers can use it to produce their own articles or research about Saudi Arabia's sports strategy.
"We only have limited resources, and it is impossible for us to pursue all the potential stories within the material, so we encourage journalists and others with an interest in Saudi Arabia to use the dataset as a starting point for their own investigations," says Elsborg.
The dataset contains information about positions held by key decisions-makers in Saudi Arabia as well as a comprehensive list of Saudi Arabian sponsorships in the world of sport. All data collection took place between August and October 2023, and only positions and sponsorships active in 2023 and in the years to come have been included.
The data has been compiled through an inductive and explorative process that began by mapping the positions relating to sport held by already well-known decision-makers in Saudi Arabian sports, ministries, and entities owned by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF). This initial mapping identified new individuals, organisations, and entities whose positions and sponsorships were also mapped in a continuous process until no significantly new information emerged.
The dataset also provides an overview of Saudi Arabian sponsorships in the world of sports. The overview has been produced by reviewing the official websites that belong to the entities identified during the process of mapping the positions. Google searches and news articles were used to supplement the findings.
Despite the extensive documentation, the dataset cannot in itself identify informal power structures within the Saudi Arabian sports strategy or explain what kind of influence sponsoring a sports event might lead to. Similarly, the dataset can point at the potential for conflicts of interests but not identify specific instances of abuse of power.
Dive into the dataset and explore the web and labyrinth of Saudi Arabia’s sports strategy
If you believe we are missing something important or have spotted any errors in the dataset, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Play the Game's article about the power players behind Saudi Arabia's sports strategy
Play the Game has used the database to shed light on the influential inner circle behind Saudi Arabia’s sports initiatives and investments in an article that dives into the extensive web and labyrinth of the network that surrounds the state-run Saudi sports venture.