January 7 – The revamped Spanish Super Cup gets under way in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday but few Spanish fans have made the trip amid heightened political tensions in the region and mounting criticism of the tournament being held in another Continent in a country long condemned for its human rights record.
The Super Cup’s new format begins with Real Madrid facing Valencia on Wednesday, then Barcelona taking on Atlético Madrid on Thursday.
All games are being played at the 62,000-capacity King Abdullah Sports City stadium outside Jeddah and according to the Spanish FA, the Barcelona-Atlético game is sold out, with only about 10,000 tickets left for Real-Valencia.
But the majority of tickets have been snapped up by Saudi nationals. Newspaper El Mundo reported that only 9% of 12,000 available to Spanish fans have been distributed. Real and Barcelona both say only a few hundred of their local fans applied and according to the Spanish media, even fewer among fans of Atlético and Valencia.
This is the first year of a lucrative three-year deal – reportedly worth €120 million ($134 million) in total – reached by Spanish federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales to play the competition in Saudi Arabia. But both human rights bodies and UEFA have criticised the move with UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin saying recently that European teams should not play in countries “where the basic rights of women are not respected.”
The Spanish league has also criticised the federation’s action citing double standards since Rubiales and his team have been firmly against the league´s attempt to play a regular season match outside of Spain.
Traditionally the Super Cup was always played between the league champion and domestic cup winner, as in other countries, usually at a neutral venue. It was moved abroad last season to Morocco but Saudi Arabia is considered by many as a step too far.
Saudi sports minister Abdulaziz Bin Turki has nevertheless shrugged off criticism ahead of the tournament.
“My country is not like 10 years ago, we’ve changed many things,” he insisted. “We have preserved our private culture but want to advance towards being a more modern country.”
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