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With Patrice Motsepe, Riyadh eyeing African football

Patrice Motsepe and Gianni Infantino traveled to Saudi Arabia, where they met Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman. The kingdom seems to want to invest in African football.

Last April, at the 43rd Ordinary General Assembly of the African Football Confederation (CAF) in Rabat, Yasser Al-Mashal, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF), congratulated Patrice Motsepe for his election to the presidency of CAF. He took the opportunity to send him a message from its leaders: Saudi Arabia could well be collaborating with CAF. Al-Mashal then proposed to the South African to go to Riyadh.

Patrice Motsepe finally went to Saudi Arabia, accompanied by a regular at the royal palace: Gianni Infantino. Italo-Switzerland indeed travels regularly in the Wahhabi kingdom. And this despite the controversies over his frequent visits to Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman. Last January, the FIFA president was taken aback by Amnesty International after the broadcast of a video in which we hear Infantino say how "much has changed" in Saudi Arabia.

"It should be perfectly clear to everyone at FIFA that Saudi Arabia is attempting to use the glamor and prestige of the sport as a public relations tool to distract from its appalling human rights record." , had then deplored the NGO in a murderous press release to the president of the International Football Federation, to whom she asked to clarify his position on the Wahhabi kingdom.

After Asia, will Africa be the future Saudi El Dorado?

This Tuesday, August 10, Gianni Infantino was therefore present in Riyadh with Patrice Motsepe, proof of the influence of the first on the second. The boss of the CAF however had a simple place of spectator, "MBS" and Infantino having, them, played the leading roles. But whatever: the president of FIFA shares his networks with the South African. In view of Saudi investments in Africa? The objective of the kingdom and its strategy are anyway quite clear: to shine on the whole planet of the round balloon by injecting money. In March and April, Saudi Arabia signed two agreements with the Asian Football Confederation - as a sponsor, with NEOM, and as a broadcaster - for the years to come.

Will Africa see Saudi Arabia invest in its competitions? Patrice Motsepe has in any case decided not to upset the Saudi kingdom: the South African, last May, said he was in favor of a possible reform of the World Cup. A reform carried by Riyadh, which succeeded in May in obtaining from FIFA the realization of a study on the sporting and financial impact of a biennial World Cup. The new CAF president sees it as “an opportunity for African countries” to host the competition.

By going to Riyadh with Infantino, Motsepe in any case left the door open to future Saudi investments in Africa. A sporting “soft power” strategy that Saudi Arabia has been trying to put in place for several years, as part of the Vision 2030 plan, launched in 2016 by Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman. Besides boxing competitions, cycling or obtaining the organization of the Dakar rally, Riyadh emphasizes football. The kingdom has already hosted the Super Cups of Spain and Italy. After the Asian investment, will the next stage of Saudi sports 'soft power' take place in Africa?

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