The Big Deal - Australian Sports Business PodcastThe Big Deal - Australian Sports Business Podcast

A deep dive into ‘sportswashing’ with Dr David B. Roberts

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‘Sportswashing’ has become a big talking point in recent times but the issue is more complex than it may seem, says Dr David B. Roberts.

Put simply, ‘sportswashing’ is where governments and corporations invest big dollars in sports ownerships and sponsorships in an effort to improve their reputations. And we’ve seen the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, throw eye watering amounts of money at the biggest sports events and organisations, all over the world, to improve their brands and grow their influence.

It has been cause for concern for human rights activists, fans and sectors of the sports industry. So we’ve brought in an expert to talk us through the big picture of ‘sportswashing’ and the growth of the Gulf States, to help us understand the reality of the issue beyond the headlines and what it means for the future of sport.

Dr David B. Roberts is an associate professor and senior lecturer at King’s College in London, with a primary focus on international relations, politics and security in the Gulf States. 

He is Adjunct Faculty at Science Po’s Paris School of International Affairs, and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute Washington. Previously, Dr Roberts was the Director of the Qatar office of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.

Dr Roberts is the author of the newly released Security Politics in the Gulf Monarchies.

Dr Roberts says ‘sportswashing’ is a more nuanced issue than what most people realise. The big spending Gulf States are entering a new era and are building a new image, backed by a younger generation with different values. 

The ‘sportswashing’ debate highlights the difficulty in countries and cultures imposing on one another ‘what is right and what is not’. 

Dr Roberts says the big money won’t last forever - there might only be 10 years before the cash runs out, so the investment is crucial for shaping the future of the Gulf States. 

Dr Roberts says the leaders behind these big investments in sport are bitter at receiving so much pushback and criticism.

He also gave great insight into the influence of the Gulf States on the English Premier League, and the bigger concern of ‘financial doping’ as sport becomes a case of ‘the haves and the have nots’. 

While Australia isn’t majorly affected by ‘sportswashing’ from the Middle East, Dr Roberts says these nations could look to emulate the country as a model for success.

Tune in and let us know your thoughts. Just reply or comment to our The Big Deal emails, or send a voice note to to be included in the next Talkback With Tredders episode!

About The Big Deal

The Big Deal reveals the dollars, details and drama behind the business of sport, in Australia and around the world. 

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The team

Warren Tredrea is an AFL hall of famer, premiership captain, 4 x All-Australian and media commentator. Show creator Andrew Montesi is an injury prone marketer and former TV sports reporter, while producer Dion Hayman is a sun sensitive sports media veteran of 30+ years.

The Big Deal podcast is brought to you by Apiro Marketing and Apiro Media, and part of the DM Media network.

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The Big Deal - Australian Sports Business Podcast

The Big Deal reveals the dollars, details and drama behind the business of sport, in Australia and a 
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