By Andrew Warshaw
June 12 – Following in the footsteps of Serie A, Spanish authorities have confirmed that the Spanish Super Cup will be controversially played in Saudi Arabia in January next year.
The new format features Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Valencia at the 62,000-capacity King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah and comes less than a month after Juventus play Lazio in Riyadh on December 22.
The money-spinning three-year contract will reportedly earn the Spanish federation (RFEF) more than €30 million a year but just as the Serie A deal with the Saudis has been denounced in most quarters, so has the Spanish equivalent – both because of human rights issues and in light of the ongoing piracy by Saudi channel BeoutQ.
Spain’s acting junior minister for sport, Maria Jose Rienda, said the government would not support holding the competition “in countries where women’s rights are not respected”.
And Amnesty International has highlighted Saudi Arabia’s “abysmal” human rights record.
Back in September, former Spanish women’s international Veronica Boquete criticised moving the Super Cup to the Middle East as a cynical move as representing “the victory of money and business above sport, above everything else”.
However, an RFEF statement said the tournament would “ease fixture congestion” and allow clubs “to be able to better plan their pre-seasons”.
“The internationalisation of the competition will increase its value and contribute to raising our visibility and improving our image ahead of our bid to host the 2030 World Cup,” it argued somewhat spuriously.
The new-look competition, which used to feature just the winners of La Liga and Copa del Rey and was last played in Morocco in August 2018, has been shifted from August to January as well as turned into a four-team affair.
Barcelona will face Atletico Madrid and Valencia will take on Real Madrid in the revamped tournament between January 8-12, with the winners meeting in the final though the event has lost much of its credibility given that Real Madrid get a shot at the trophy even though they finished trophy-less last season and third in La Liga.
La Liga’s outspoken president Javier Tebas has vehemently opposed the RFEF’s choice of host, criticising the way BeoutQ is pirating broadcasts of global sports events, ironically including Spanish football.
But RFEF president Luis Rubiales attempted to take the moral high in justifying the deal.
“We hope that our opinion will be respected, which is to back the people that are in Saudi Arabia and to collaborate with the country’s federation to serve as tool for social change,” he said.
“It’s going to benefit men and women that live there. There are others with different opinions, some created from nothing, but we will also respect that.”
People like Jamal Khashoggi, Mr Rubiales?
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