Belgium midfielder Yannick Carrasco recently drew criticism for his transfer to Saudi Arabian soccer club Al Shabab FC from Atletico Madrid.
Carrasco stated he agreed to the transfer for “security” and safety from injury, but brushed off concerns about the kingdom’s human rights record, saying “people can sometimes think badly about things.”
“Human rights violated in Saudi Arabia? I don’t support what the organizations are saying,” Carrasco told RTBF, recalling the few hours he was in the country to initial his contract. “I see that Cristiano Ronaldo and his wife normally live there. The other players too. I was there, I saw how the women are there, how people walk around. Honestly, it’s a beautiful country. I didn’t see anything in particular on this subject when I went there.”
Saudi Arabia has long seen international criticism from both rights organizations and governments for its criminal punishment of political dissidents and LGBTQ+ residents, killing of foreign journalists critical of the government, and more recently its involvement in the Yemeni Civil War.
The kingdom has reportedly spent the equivalent of over $6 billion in sports deals since 2021, a move critics have termed “sportswashing” in light of these issues. However, the lucrative Saudi leagues continue to attract many top sports stars.
Al Shabab said Carrasco’s contract lasts until 2026, but revealed no further details. A 30 year old soccer player with 66 international appearances, and 266 matches with Atletico since joining in 2015, he considers himself “rather at the end of [his] career.”
“I still have the qualities to play in a big club but if there is an injury, it can quickly change. It’s safety first.”
Carrasco will be the second Belgian international player to enter the Saudi league, following Jason Denayer, who transferred to Al Fateh on a two-year deal.
(Photo courtesy of Svyetlana Byekyetova | CC BY-SA 3.0)