LONDON: Saudi Arabia would back private bids for Manchester United or Liverpool, its sports minister said, adding that the conservative kingdom was keen to host the World Cup.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal even said the Gulf state could be a new home for clubless superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
Prince Abdulaziz said oil-wealthy Saudi Arabia, which has been on a buying spree of sports assets, would “definitely support” bids for the English Premier League giants, whose owners are canvassing investors.
“From the private sector, I can’t speak on their behalf, but there is a lot of interest and appetite and there’s a lot of passion about football,” he told the BBC.
“We will definitely support it if any private sector comes in, because we know that’s going to reflect positively on sports within the kingdom,” Prince Abdulaziz added.
“But if there’s an investor willing to do so and the numbers add up, why not?”
Saudi Arabia, much criticised by activists for its human rights record, last year snapped up England’s perennial under-achievers Newcastle, who are now third in the Premier League.
Manchester United’s American owners stunned fans this week by revealing they would consider selling the club — just hours after announcing the departure of Ronaldo, 37.
Liverpool’s owners, also American, have said they are open to new shareholders but stopped short of confirming reports the club is up for sale.
After Ronaldo told British TV that he had rejected a huge offer to join a Saudi club, Prince Abdulaziz said: “Anything is possible, I would love to see Ronaldo play in the Saudi league.
“It would benefit the league, the sports eco-system in Saudi and it will inspire the youth for the future. He’s a role model to a lot of kids and has a big fanbase in Saudi.”
Lionel Messi, Ronaldo’s great rival on the global stage, is already the recipient of Saudi money as a tourism ambassador for the country, which is courting foreign visitors and businesses.
Prince Abdulaziz also said Saudi Arabia’s chances of bidding for the World Cup would increase if it wins hosting rights for the 2026 and 2027 women’s and men’s Asian Cups.
Saudi Arabia is in talks with Egypt and Greece about a continent-crossing bid for the 2030 World Cup, an Egyptian official said in September.
“Any country in the world would love to host the World Cup,” the prince said.
“We need to uplift some of our venues,” he added. “We have a lot of stadiums that meet the requirement that we need, but hosting such an event is not just about the stadiums, it’s about the infrastructure, the people, about preparing everyone (for) such an event.”