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Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Is Saudi Arabia New Cricket a threat?


The kingdom aims to improve its reputation not by addressing its shortcomings, but through marketing. It has concluded that high-profile sports, with their vast international audiences and ability to generate goodwill, offer the best way forward. FIFA President Gianni Infantino, known for his love of money, is already preparing for the Saudi football World Cup in 2030 as a prelude to the upcoming Qatar event.

Taking over cricket was identified as a target when Aramco became the International Cricket Council's naming sponsor last year, and their branding now appears at every global event. Cricket is a relatively easy target, with only 12 countries playing at the top level, and only three of them in good financial health. However, the potential audience for cricket is enormous, especially in India, with a population of 1.4 billion and a significant diaspora worldwide.

Saudi Arabia hopes to acquire the Indian Premier League, either by hosting the existing competition or by launching a complementary one. The league is controlled by the Indian board, but the teams are owned by private investors, and the league prohibits Indian players from participating in other tournaments worldwide to maintain its dominance. With a broadcast agreement worth $6.2 billion, the IPL is accustomed to being the biggest spender in the room, purchasing teams in South Africa, the Caribbean, the Emirates, and the United States. Saudi Arabia is one of the few entities in the world that can compete with Indian cricket by offering a larger budget.

The current state of cricket is already heading towards its end, and a Saudi Arabian league will hasten its demise. The Indian Premier League, which runs for three months annually, will face stiff competition from a Saudi equivalent, which would likely aim for similar success. Other leagues will emerge and take up the slack, and the International Cricket Council (ICC) will likely consent to these changes, with its members hoping for some benefit. Test cricket, which is already unaffordable for most countries, will likely become an occasional exhibition event for India, England, and Australia. The future of cricket, similar to football, will likely shift towards franchises, with international matches being replaced by short and frequent T20 World Cups.

According to reports, IPL team owners are allegedly collaborating with Saudi Arabia, which has expressed interest in having Indian players participate in their tournaments. This move comes after Saudi Arabia announced its ambition to become the top tourist destination for Indian nationals by 2030. However, at present, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) prohibits Indian players from taking part in competing T20 leagues.

Reportedly, Saudi Arabia plans to launch a T20 league with IPL support, posing a fresh challenge to cricket

The T20 league proposed by Saudi Arabia, which may receive financial support from both Saudi businesses and the IPL conglomerates, has the potential to become one of the wealthiest T20 tournaments globally. This is due to the IPL's history of purchasing numerous T20 franchises worldwide.

There is a rising concern that cricket players, particularly those nearing the end of their careers, may give up playing for their national teams in favor of lucrative T20 leagues. While cricket boards in England, India, and Australia have the resources to keep their top players, other countries that play Test cricket may struggle to do so.

In a groundbreaking agreement last year, two of New Zealand's top players, Trent Boult and Martin Guptill, were let go from their national contracts to concentrate on playing for T20 franchise teams. Although the Black Caps recently played against Sri Lanka in different formats in their home country, Boult chose to play for the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL instead.

Saudi Arabia, which is an ICC associate member, has been accused of using sports to cover up its poor human rights record. In an attempt to do so, the country has been investing in various sports ventures, such as buying Newcastle United in the English Premier League, securing the services of Cristiano Ronaldo for the Al Nassr club, sponsoring the LIV Golf circuit managed by Greg Norman, and organizing a Formula 1 Grand Prix.

What is the future of IPL?

he governing body of cricket in India, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), has valid reasons to be concerned because Saudi Arabia's plan poses a direct threat to the $8.4 billion IPL. According to The Age, Saudi Arabia is interested in recruiting prominent Indian cricketers like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma for its own league, which goes against BCCI's policy of not allowing Indian players to participate in overseas leagues. However, BCCI may reconsider its stance and consider co-existing with the Saudi league.

Reportedly, representatives from Saudi Arabia met with BCCI officials last week, expressing interest in collaborating to ensure the success of their league. Furthermore, a Mint report suggests that there is even a possibility of holding an IPL round in Saudi Arabia.

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