Saudi Aramco cricket deal marks kingdom’s latest move into sport

Saudi Aramco has agreed a sponsorship deal with international cricket’s governing body, marking the latest push by the Gulf kingdom and the oil industry into global sport.

Under the agreement, which runs until the end of 2023, the world’s biggest oil exporter will sponsor several major international cricket tournaments, including the men’s World Cup in India next year. In a joint press release on Friday, the two parties said the partnership “reflects a shared focus on sustainability and innovation”.

The deal with the Dubai-based International Cricket Council comes days after UK-headquartered Shell announced an eight-year partnership with British Cycling, the sport’s governing body in the UK, which drew sharp criticism from environmental groups.

Saudi Aramco, which buoyed by rising oil prices overtook Apple this year as the world’s most valuable company, has existing commercial deals with the Indian Premier League, Formula One, and women’s golf. The Saudi government remains the largest shareholder in the company, owning 94 per cent after it listed just under 2 per cent of its shares in Riyadh in 2019 and then passed another 4 per cent to the Saudi Public Investment Fund this year.

The PIF is also a big backer of international sport. Last year it bought English Premier League football club Newcastle United for just over £300mn and has earmarked $2bn towards LIV Golf, a rival circuit taking on the PGA Tour.

The sovereign wealth fund recently said it had committed more than $2bn this year on long-term sponsorships with football clubs.

Human rights groups have criticised such contracts as “sportwashing”, accusing the kingdom of using sponsorships of popular events to divert attention from the country’s human rights record.

Green campaigners have also rounded on the deal between Shell and British Cycling.

“After being booted out of museums and other cultural institutions, Big Oil are looking at sports as the next frontier for their brazen greenwash,” said Greenpeace.

An open letter calling for the partnership with Shell to be cancelled has attracted hundreds of signatures from individuals and organisations, while British Cycling faced a fierce backlash on social media.

Shell remains Europe’s biggest oil and gas producer but is also investing in clean energy technology such as electric vehicle charging and low-carbon fuels, as it seeks to transform itself into a major green energy provider.

David Bunch, Shell’s UK country chair, said the partnership reflected “the shared ambitions of Shell UK and British Cycling to get to net zero in the UK as well as encouraging low and zero-carbon forms of transport such as cycling and electric vehicles”.

Shell has committed to cut emissions from its own operations by 50 per cent by 2030 and to net zero by 2050, while also reducing, although not as quickly, the carbon emitted when the fuel it sells is burnt.

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