Saudi Arabia signs deal with IPL
The Indian Premier League cricket tournament is one of the world's most-watched sporting events. AFP/Indranil MUKHERJEE


  • Saudi Arabia is trying to become a serious cricket destination
  • Saudi Arabia recently bagged the hosting rights of the next Club World Cup
  • Al-Hilal recently became the first Saudi club to play the Club World Cup final

Saudi Arabia astounded the football fraternity when it landed Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the greatest players to have ever graced the game. Now, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has turned its focus to cricket as it aims at becoming a sporting powerhouse.

Saudi Arabia signs deal with BCCI

One of the richest countries in the world, Saudi Arabia, has come together with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the world's richest cricket body to begin a possible fruitful partnership. The Saudi Tourism Authority (STA) has signed an official contract with the BCCI to become one of the official sponsors of the Indian Premier League – one of the most-watched T20 leagues across the globe.

Each of the six IPL official partners pays an average of INR 60 crore ($7.24 million or approximately £6 million) per season, according to the Economic Times.

The STA is the second Saudi company to enter the IPL, after Saudi Aramco which is the exclusive sponsor of Orange Cap and Purple Cap. The awards are given to the leading run-scorer and wicket-taker, respectively, every season.

Saudi Arabia boasts of more than 100 playing venues and the country is ranked No. 33 in the latest International Cricket Council (ICC) Twenty20 International (T20I) rankings. The desert nation is aiming at entering the top 10 of the rankings in the near future.

Cricket in Saudi Arabia

Cricket has existed in Saudi Arabia since the 1960s when the sport was introduced by refugees from Pakistan and India. The Kingdom became an affiliate member of the ICC in 2003 and in 2016 it was promoted to associate membership.

A crucial turn happened in Saudi's cricketing structure when the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF) was established in 2020 and as of now, it looks after 16 regional associations across 11 cities. Over 8,000 players and 400+ clubs are registered with the SACF, with a total participation tally of around 35,000 in domestic cricket tournaments and championships.

It is understood that SACF is also planning to host large-scale cricketing events and is working towards it. Bagging important sponsorship rights is just a start for the Middle Eastern country. Apart from the IPL deal, Saudi-based energy company Aramco secured a lucrative deal last year from the ICC, becoming their global partner.

Aramco's contract is due to run until the end of 2023, which would see them sponsor the 50-over Cricket World Cup that is scheduled to take place in India this year.

Saudi Arabia looks to tap Pakistan's cricket market too

India and Pakistan are among two of the biggest markets in cricket. While Saudi is doing everything to strengthen its ties with Indian cricket, it has also begun its way to conquer the Pakistan sector too.

Former Pakistan fast bowler Wasim Akram recently travelled to Riyadh, where he met Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation Chairman Prince Saud bin Mishal Al Saud to discuss the future of the sport in the Kingdom. After the meeting, Akram issued a statement, saying he is "looking forward" to starting a cricket league in Saudi Arabia.

"What a trip to Riyadh. Had a great meeting with H.H. Saud (bin) Mishal, talked about cricket in Saudi Arabia, and so looking forward to (starting) a Saudi league insha Allah very soon," said Akram.

While Saudi Arabia is leaving no stone unturned in portraying itself as a serious cricket destination, it is a football-loving nation as well.

Love for football

Over the last few months, Saudi Arabia has produced a few game-changers in the sporting world, starting with their historic 2-1 win over Lionel Messi-led Argentina at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The fact that Saudi Arabia declared the following day a national holiday on the Jeddah Corniche by the Red Sea, in the heart of the capital Riyadh and in towns and villages across the country showed what it meant to the Gulf country.

League rivals of Ronaldo's Al Nassr club – Al Hilal – recently became the first Saudi Arabian side to make it to the finals of the FIFA Club World Cup, where they lost to European giants Real Madrid. A few days later, it was confirmed that Saudi Arabia would be hosting the next Club World Cup, becoming only the sixth host since the competition's inception in 2000. Saudi, following the footsteps of Qatar, the hosts of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, are looking to clinch the hosting rights for the 2030 FIFA World Cup.