By Samindra Kunti
December 23 – Lazio defeated Juventus 3-1 to win the Italian Super Cup, controversially staged in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, its second season in the country.
It was the second time that Saudi Arabia hosted the Italian Super Cup. Last year Juventus defeated Milan 1-0 in Jeddah. It has been a choice of venue that has reignited the debate about the kingdom’s human rights record, as well as its attitude towards international copyright law with its hosting of the BeoutQ pirate satellite broadcaster that has stolen the rights of all the world’s major football leagues and competitions.
The Italians really don’t care regarding the moral and legal implications of taking their event to Saudi and are reported in the Italian press of even expanding the Super Cup to a four-team tournament. Meetings between Serie A executives and Saudi Arabian authorities have taken place with a year still left on the current agreement to host the 2020 Super Cup.
Moving to a four team Italian Super Cup would mirror the new four-team format that will be played for the Spanish Super Cup early next year in Saudi. That deal was negotiated by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) but has met significant resistance in Spain both commercially and politically with a number of Spanish broadcasters refusing to bid for the rights.
The human rights issues were again making headlines before the Riyadh match. In the build-up to the game Hatice Cengiz, fiancee of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, had appealed for the match to not go ahead in Saudi Arabia. In Rome she told journalists: “I am really confused about the situation of two Italian teams playing in Saudi Arabia. I understand that there has been an invitation and there is an economic side to this.”
“I also understand that it is not possible to boycott the match, as everything is already scheduled, but don’t you see that this is being used politically, to promote the country through football, something that you truly love?” asked Cengiz. “It is a very specific question, and this is how I feel. I am heartbroken that this is happening.”
In September Amnesty International and the journalists union for Italian state tv RAI had written a joint letter to both Juventus and Lazio asking the clubs not to boycott the Italian Super Cup in Saudi Arabia because of the country’s human rights record. They had also protested in 2018 against the Super Cup being played in the country.
Saudi Arabia is paying €21 million for three editions of the Super Cup. This compares to an estimated €500 million that beIN has committed to Serie A broadcasts but which is now under threat due to the Saudi piracy – that amount is 50% of Serie A’s overseas revenue from broadcast rights.
Serie A appears to have a moral bypass. It has struggled to come to terms with discrimination issues within its league but also more worryingly within its federation where it compounds an institutionalised racist attitude with error after error. The rush to Saudi and its money once again raises questions about the integrity of Serie A and its advisors.
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