Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth investment group the Public Investment Fund (PIF) has reportedly entered into discussions with four teams from England’s Premiership rugby union competition over significant investment.
The fund, which controversially purchased English Premier League soccer side Newcastle United in 2021, is said to be in talks with the Newcastle Falcons, Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints, and Gloucester, over as much as £60 million ($76 million) in investment.
This would involve the PIF taking on not only naming rights to the sides’ stadiums but also working with the clubs in establishing a rugby academy in Saudi Arabia – all of this would come with the PIF taking a shareholding in each team.
It would be a financial boon to the cash-strapped league, in which three teams that began the 2022-23 season failed to be present for the start of the 2023-24 campaign due to a lack of available funds.
Wasps, London Irish, and Worcester Warriors, have all been expelled from the competition over the last ten months, and moreover, the top team in the second-tier championship competition, the Jersey Reds, were ineligible to enter the league due to similar financial troubles, and have since ceased trading.
Despite this, the move will likely cause controversy, both over competitive balance on the pitch, and ethical issues off it.
Thus far since being set up, the PIF has engaged in deals into its priority sports of soccer, golf, motor racing, horse racing, and boxing, which have totaled at least $7.68 billion, according to GlobalData research.
Overall, the PIF aims to create 1.8 million jobs and generate $1.07 trillion in assets under management – as well as $320 billion in cumulative non-oil GDP, but many point to underhanded motives such as using sport to sanitize the country’s image through “sportswashing."
In 2023, as the Kingdom ramped up its sporting investment, recorded executions in Saudi Arabia reached their highest number in 30 years, a total of 172.