Shifting sands: How a wave of sportswashing is changing the world

From elite-level golf to the 2022 World Cup finals, Middle Eastern oil money is altering the parameters of global sport like never before, despite the best efforts of activists to draw attention to the often brutal realities behind the curtain. Will the sheer weight of cash be sufficient to fool enough of the people, all of the time?

When the takeover of Newcastle by a consortium led by the Saudi Arabian government’s soverign wealth fund was confirmed fans of the Toon Army celebrated by waving Saudi flags and wearing tea towels on their heads suggesting, for some at least, that Saudi Arabia had captured some of the social power of football. Picture: PA

When Phil Mickelson picked up the phone to a journalist last November, the American golfer spoke with a candour rarely heard from top-level sports stars. That’s perhaps surprising, because the subject was the proposed LIV Golf tour, a breakaway golf competition backed by the Saudi Arabian state, which was causing huge controversy within the sport.

Mickelson was about to find himself cast as the public lightning rod for the venture. So golf writer Alan Shipnuck, ...