The kingdom is reportedly willing to pay Argentinian maestro Lionel Messi $400 million-a-year for the twilight of his career. While a huge sum, even by football’s bloated standards, it’s just the latest in a string of moves by the petrostate’s rulers, who are plowing billions into sports, art and music.
Saudi Arabia hopes the spending, powered by excess revenue from its role as the world’s biggest crude exporter. This will excite its burgeoning younger generation and supercharge its tourism industry.
Critics argue that the efforts aim to varnish an international image that suffered due to a brutal war in Yemen. And the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman oversees this so-called soft power play, simultaneously spending billions to build Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities. This now ranks as the world’s fifth-largest arms budget. Furthermore, he pursues a more opportunistic diplomatic track that has repeatedly put Riyadh at odds with Washington.