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Saudi’s PIF ‘in talks’ to invest in British rugby

Gloucester score against Leicester Tigers during a Gallagher Premiership match. PIF is said to be interested in buying a stake in both teams IMAGO/News Images via Reuters Connect
Gloucester score against Leicester Tigers during a Gallagher Premiership match. PIF is said to be interested in buying a stake in both teams
  • Stakes in four Premiership teams
  • Stadium naming rights included
  • £60m offer on table

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is said to be in talks to buy stakes in four British rugby clubs.  

British media has reported that discussions are taking place to pay a total of £60 million ($76 million) for shares in a quartet of top-tier clubs: Gloucester, Leicester Tigers, Newcastle Falcons and Northampton Saints. 

This would give PIF the stadium naming rights and the momentum to establish a regional rugby academy, presumably in Saudi Arabia. 

A spokesman for PIF, which owns the giga-projects at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s massive development plans, declined to comment on the report.

The deal will be attractive to the clubs – three Premiership teams went bankrupt in the last year. PIF is already the 80 percent owner of Premier League football club Newcastle United. 

PIF could avoid regulatory problems if the acquisitions are 10 percent or lower in each club. According to the Rugby Football Union rules, a change of 10 percent or less does not require a green light from the governing body. 

Saudi Arabia has gone on a massive spending spree in sport as part of its plans to diversify the economy. 

Mainly focused on football, it has included buying Saudi teams, foreign teams and global stars. 

Last year PIF took 75 percent stakes in four Saudi football teams: Al Ittihad, Al Hilal, Al Nassr and Al Ahli and in 2022 Al Nassr signed Cristiano Ronaldo.

Saudi Arabia is also organising a series of major sports events in the country during the early months of 2024, called Riyadh Season, including a World Masters of Snooker, a face-off between boxing champions Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk on February 17 and a mixed martial arts champion-of-champions event on February 24. 

James Dorsey, author of a book on Middle East sport, said rugby could still be attractive to PIF, even if it is not a money-maker. 

“Profit is not Saudi Arabia’s sole aim,” he said. “Positioning the kingdom as the go-to hub for anything and everything – soft power and stimulation of sports that are non-existent in Saudi Arabia – are equally important factors.”

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