Saudi wealth fund to take control of soccer star Ronaldo's club

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Saudi Pro League - Al Nassr v Al Shabab - KSU Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - May 23, 2023 Al Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo applauds fans after the match REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri/File Photo

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund will take control of four of the kingdom's top soccer clubs including Al-Nassr, which Cristiano Ronaldo plays for, as the government revives a plan to privatise several state-owned sports clubs.

The Public Investment Fund (PIF) will own 75% of al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Nassr, and Al-Hilal, the sports ministry said on Twitter on Monday following a report by state news agency SPA that Saudi Arabia will privatise several sports clubs from the fourth quarter.

All are in the top-flight Saudi Professional League, except Al-Ahli which is in the second-tier Saudi First Division. PIF has previously taken over several companies before privatising them, though often partially.

Sports is one of the pillars of the government's Vision 2030 economic diversification plan that seeks to build new industries and create jobs, which PIF is at the centre of.

The privatisation plan, mainly focused on soccer clubs and launched by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, allows companies and development agencies to invest in and take over clubs, SPA reported earlier on Monday.

The kingdom aims for the revenue of the Saudi Professional League to increase to 1.8 billion riyals ($480 million) annually by 2030 from 450 million riyals. It expects its market value to rise to more than 8 billion from 3 billion riyals over the same period, SPA added.

The sports ministry said Second Division football club al-Suqoor will be turned into a company and owned by NEOM, which is behind the kingdom's project to build a futuristic city in the desert.

Saudi oil giant Aramco will own Saudi First Division club Al-Qadsiah, Third Division side Alula FC will be owned by the Royal Commission for Al-Ula while First Division club al-Diraiyah FC will be controlled by Diriyah Gate Development Authority.

In February 2017, sources told Reuters Saudi Arabia had hired local private investment bank Jadwa Investment to advise on the privatisation of as many as five football clubs.

But in early 2019, the then-head of the country's football federation said: "I don't know whether it will be 2020 or 2022 until the plan is ready."

Meanwhile, the kingdom has poured money into raising its soccer standing. PIF led a consortium to buy Premier League side Newcastle United in October 2021.

The league has also attracted some of the sport's most decorated players, notably Portuguese great Ronaldo who joined Al Nassr at the end of last year.

Last month, a source close to Argentina captain Lionel Messi - Ronaldo's rival for the title of best player of his generation - told Reuters that he had received a formal offer to join Al-Hilal next season.

($1 = 3.7502 riyals)

(Reporting by Jana Choukeir and Yousef Saba; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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