Jun 7, 2023, 1:44pm EDT
businessMiddle East

Lionel Messi, Tiger Woods, and other sports stars who rejected Saudi offers

REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo

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The News

Reigning World Cup champion Lionel Messi is set to join U.S.-based club Inter Miami CF, rejecting an offer from Saudi Arabian team Al Hilal SC, the BBC reported Wednesday.

The news comes a day after a development that shook up the world of golf: The PGA announced it would merge with the controversial, Saudi-funded LIV Tour, sparking criticism that Riyadh was making the move to counter objections to its human rights record.

In turning down the chance to play in Saudi Arabia, which would’ve been more lucrative for Messi, the Argentinian forward joins a growing list of sports stars and brands that have rejected opportunities to play in Saudi Arabia or sell to Saudi-based buyers.

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Know More

  • Brazilian soccer star Neymar refused recent approaches from a Saudi team, French outlet Foot Mercato reported.
  • Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric reportedly turned down an offer from Saudi Arabia and decided to stay at his current club for another season.
  • Free agent Isco Alarcon, who most recently played for Real Madrid and Sevilla, reportedly received an offer from the Saudi club Al-Khaleej, but turned it down.
  • Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund explored buying Formula 1 motor racing for over $20 billion, but that potential deal fell through last year, Bloomberg reported in January. Last month, F1 owner Liberty Media Corporation shut down rumors that it would sell to Saudi Arabia. “If anybody knows us, they should know that’s just not in our cards,” CEO Greg Maffei said.
  • Tiger Woods said no to a deal worth about $700 to $800 million to join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, CEO Greg Norman told Fox News last year.
  • Golfing great Jack Nicklaus turned down an offer worth over $100 million to be the face of the LIV Golf Invitational Series, he said last year.

Saudi Arabian teams have been successful in some acquisitions.

  • The country’s sovereign wealth fund took over British soccer team Newcastle United in 2021.
  • After initially rejecting a lucrative offer, Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo signed with Saudi team Al Nassr FC late last year.
  • And just this week, Karim Benzema, the former Real Madrid captain, announced he is joining a Saudi team.