SRJ Sports Investment, the sports arm of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has reportedly entered exclusive talks to back a new cycling league in the latest move by the kingdom to increase its influence over the global sports industry.
Citing sources close to the deal, news outlet Reuters said SRJ Sports Investment is looking to invest around €250 million ($270 million) in the project, which is being headed by several major European cycling teams.
Teams linked to the project include Dutch team Visma-Lease a Bike and Ineos Grenadiers, which is owned by billionaire businessman Jim Ratcliffe – both of which compete at UCI's top-tier WorldTeam level.
It is understood that the teams involved believe the majority of profits from top events, including the Tour de France, go to the organizers and a new league will be a way to redistribute earnings more evenly.
The commercial aspects of the deal are expected to be finalized with SRJ over the next two months after the fund beat other interested investors, including private equity firm CVC, to the punch.
The new report comes after Reuters said last October that consulting firm EY had been seeking expressions of interest from investors for a new cycling project.
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While EY and Ineos Grenadiers declined to comment, Visma-Lease a Bike told Reuters: “This idea is explored to come up with a sustainable business model for cycling in the future.”
Should it go ahead, it would mark the kingdom’s first significant foray into cycling after investing heavily in other sports including soccer, motorsports, and mixed-martial arts. Investment in sports is one of the main focuses of the Saudi Arabian government’s Vision 2030 economic diversification plan to move away from its reliance on oil and gas as its main industries.
However, many critics have said its investments are being made primarily to distract from the kingdom’s poor human rights record.