Saudi Wealth Fund in Talks for Boxing League

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LONDON/RIYADH, June 12 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) is in talks with various boxing stakeholders about forming a league, potentially altering the sport's competitive landscape, sources informed Reuters.

PIF is looking to invest in a joint venture with some of the sport's stakeholders to feature more boxing matches, according to anonymous sources.

Leading promoters, including Matchroom Boxing and Golden Boy Promotions, are part of discussions that might result in a deal valuing the new entity between $4-5 billion, according to one source.

PIF aims to create a venture bringing the main sport's organizers together, in which it would hold a minority stake, the source added.

Turki al-Sheikh, a close advisor to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has been heavily involved in the sports sector and chairs the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, was overseeing final discussions around a potential deal about a month ago, another source said.

Reuters could not determine how the league would be structured.

PIF and Matchroom Boxing declined to comment, and Golden Boy Promotions did not respond to requests for comment.

Currently, the sport includes organizations such as the World Boxing Council, the International Boxing Federation, the World Boxing Association, and the World Boxing Organization, each with its own rules for championship belts.

Saudi Arabia has invested billions in sports to reduce its oil dependency under Crown Prince Mohammed's Vision 2030 program, aiming to bring in tourism, boost the private sector, and create jobs.

Boxing is the latest sport to attract possible investment from PIF, which is chaired by the crown prince, following deals in golf, Formula 1, and football. The fund has also considered investing in a new cycling league, Reuters reported.

"Boxing can attract investors' attention to the kingdom," said Sebastion Sons, senior researcher at consultancy CARPO.

"By investing in sport, Saudi Arabia seeks more market access, new political and economic networks, wants to gain attraction as a tourist destination, and raise global awareness for Saudi Arabia's transformation."

PIF disrupted the golf world by funding the LIV Golf series, creating a rivalry with the PGA Tour and leading to a surprise deal to merge the tours announced last year.

That deal is now at risk after talks between the PGA and LIV stalled, and as a U.S. senate panel called it an attempt by Saudi Arabia's government to "buy influence" in U.S. sports.

Critics accuse the country of using its sovereign wealth fund for "sportswashing" amid heavy criticism of Saudi Arabia's human rights record.

“If sport washing increases my GDP by 1%, then I will continue doing sport washing,” the crown prince told Fox News last year.

The kingdom has already hosted some of boxing's biggest fights and events. "There is a big opportunity in boxing," Al-Sheikh told ESPN earlier this year. "But you must improve the market."

SURJ Sports Investment, previously called SRJ Sports Investments and owned by PIF, bought a stake in the United States' Professional Fighters League in August 2023.

Since then, boxers like heavyweight Tyson Fury have fought in Riyadh, attended by Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined the kingdom’s soccer league last year.

Source: reuters

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