World Snooker has announced a 10-year deal with Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority for a lucrative new tournament to be hosted in the country from 2020.
The inaugural Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters will take place in Riyadh from October 4 to 10 next year, with total prize money of £2.5m ($3.3m/€3m). It will be a full ranking event contested by 128 players, and the champion will receive £500,000, the same amount as the winner of the annual World Championship in Sheffield, England.
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn said: “This is a giant leap forward for our sport. We have enjoyed tremendous global expansion over the past decade, particularly in Asia and Europe, and we are thrilled to stage a new and momentous tournament in the Middle East.”
World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association chairman Jason Ferguson said: “What we want to do with this event is build the infrastructure and inspire a generation of stars from that Middle East region. We’re a global sport, we will go anywhere. We’ve had success in Africa this year, we’ve seen players joining our tour from everywhere in the world, this is no exception. The future is bright.”
The Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters is the latest in a string of sports events that Saudi Arabia has stepped up to host, including Spanish football’s Supercopa, Italian football’s Supercoppa, a Formula E race and the Extreme E electric SUV race.
Hearn’s Matchroom Sport has also embraced events in Saudi Arabia, with this weekend’s heavyweight boxing contest between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz held in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
The Spanish and Italian football events have caused tension between the rights-holders and their broadcast rights-holder beIN Sports. The Qatari company has been a victim of a piracy operation emanating from Saudi Arabia, which is set against the backdrop of the broader political dispute between the two countries.
Indeed, beIN has encouraged rights-holders not to hold events in Saudi Arabia while the piracy operation is ongoing. The broadcaster alleges that beoutQ is supported by the Saudi government and that by holding events in the country, organisers are helping to fuel piracy and undervalue their own rights.
However, this hasn’t stopped Saudi Arabia attracting further top-level sporting events. In October, Amaury Sports Organisation, the group behind the Tour de France and the Dakar Rally, announced a new cycling race in Saudi Arabia, while the Saudi General Sports Authority unveiled the Diriyah Tennis Cup, the country’s first-ever international tennis tournament.
Last month, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) championed a lucrative three-year hosting deal with the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, reported to be worth €120m ($132.9m) over three years (from 2019-20 to 2021-22).
Saudi Arabia is keen to invest in sport as it seeks to modernise its economy under its Vision 2030 initiative.