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Saudi Arabia nears deal to create new cycling league  

Helmet, People, Person REUTERS/Susana Vera
Team Jumbo–Visma's Sepp Kuss celebrates with teammates after winning Vuelta a Espana on September 17, 2023

SRJ Sports Investments, wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), has backed a new cycling league, Reuters reported, citing three people familiar with the matter.

The company, founded last year, is negotiating a potential investment of €250 million ($270 million) in the venture, which is spearheaded by major European cycling teams.

If successful, this would mark Saudi Arabia’s first significant involvement in the world of cycling, having invested in sports such as football, motorsports and martial arts. 

SRJ is expected to finalise commercial aspects of the deal over the next two months following its success in an auction that included private equity fund CVC, the sources added.

The venture, which may involve a combination of new and existing races, is led by a select group of teams, including Visma-Lease a Bike and Ineos Grenadiers, backed by billionaire businessman Jim Ratcliffe, sources said. 

Discussions for a deal are ongoing and not complete, Reuters said.

SRJ, established to drive the growth of the sports sector in the Mena region, has previously acquired a minority stake in the Professional Fighters League, a mixed martial arts organisation, reportedly valued at $100 million in August last year.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministries of Sport and Tourism have set an ambitious target for sports to contribute 0.6 percent of GDP by 2030, up from the current 0.2 percent.

The Saudi Pro League has spent millions of dollars on football stars, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar.

The $650 billion sovereign wealth fund PIF launched the LIV Golf circuit in 2022, competing with the established PGA Tour. The two tours ended a lengthy legal battle in June 2023 by deciding to merge their commercial interests.

PIF governor Yasir Al Rumayyan was named the chairman of the LIV-PGA partnership. He also chairs Newcastle United, the English Premier League football club purchased by the fund in 2021.

Saudi Arabia has also secured a five-year deal to host the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah, the end-of-season tennis tournament for the best under-21 men.

British media last week reported that PIF was in talks to to pay a total of £60 million ($76 million) for shares in a quartet of top-tier UK rugby 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, reports said.

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