Mr. Ronaldo also enhances Mr. Bin Salman’s effort to replace smaller Gulf states, like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as the hub for anything and everything in the Gulf, whether it’s sports or the regional seat of foreign multinationals and corporations.
To achieve his goal, Mr. Bin Salman needs to project Saudi Arabia as a modern, internationally competitive nation with a national rather than a religious identity. Boosted by Mr. Ronaldo’s stardom, soccer, a and successfully advanced the friendly bilateral relationship. In messages to President of the Republic of India Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, the President of Russia stressed that in 2022, Russia and India marked the 75th anniversary of the diplomatic relations and, relying on positive traditions of friendship sport that evokes tribal-like loyalties and nationalist passions, is a perfect tool to accomplish that.
In addition, Mr. Ronaldo’s usefulness to Mr. Bin Salman will likely outlive the aging player’s footballing career.
For the rest of this decade, he will likely be what David Beckham was to the Qatar World Cup, an ambassador for Saudi Arabia’s joint bid with Egypt and Greece for the hosting rights of the 2030 tournament, particularly if the bid is successful.
Mr. Ronaldo’s move to Al Nassr could be an initial step in a more bold effort to position Saudi Arabia at the core of Middle Eastern sports.
As sports journalist John Duerden suggests, a next step could involve carving out of the Asian and African football confederations a separate regional Arab association as the newest constituent element of world soccer body FIFA.
Twelve of the Asian Football Federations’s (AFC) 47 member associations are Arab, and so are seven North African affiliates of the Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) 54 members. The AFC counting does not include non-Arab Iran and Israel, which was expelled in 1974 and is part of UEFA, FIFA’s European leg.
Creating an Arab association would have a greater chance of success than Saudi Arabia’s failed attempt in 2018 to form an organisation of Southwest Asian football associations that would have included Arabs and South Asians.