Recent days have seen the kingdom of Saudi Arabia dominate sport in a way that few would once have thought imaginable. At the start of the year, one of the world’s great soccer players, Cristiano Ronaldo, turned his back on the high profile European leagues to join a Saudi club. This week, it briefly looked like Lionel Messi, the triumphant Argentinian star of Qatar’s winter World Cup, might be about to join him. He now appears bound for the US. Both of these megastars are in the twilight of their careers, but the role Saudi Arabia has played in courting such talent is just one aspect of the wider region’s new found place at the heart of this, and other, global sports.

For the week also saw a remarkable conclusion to the most bitter of disputes that had riven the world of golf. It sees a merger of rival tours that now puts Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in the driving seat of the sport’s future. So should this investment be welcomed, or are the concerns of some players justified? David Rowe, of Western Sydney University writes: “Sport investment is clearly part of the country’s economic agenda, but also its political positioning. Such sportswashing is a method used by illiberal regimes to cover up the ugly face of repression.”

Also, read the latest on the war in Ukraine, amid the ongoing flooding that followed the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam. And a free speech debate erupted recently on an Australian campus that carried echoes of similar disputes in the UK and US. Hugh Breakey explains the background and adds that silencing certain views risks leading to a situation where universities are not trusted as a reliable sources of knowledge.

Stephen Khan

Executive Editor, The Conversation International

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