Dylan Hartley has welcomed Saudi Arabia's reported interest in investing in the Gallagher Premiership
Former England captain Dylan Hartley has backed the reported investment interest from Saudi Arabia into the Gallagher Premiership.
A report in The Telegraph claimed that associates of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, have held discussions with four Premiership clubs with a view to pouring as much as £60 million into the franchises.
It was initially understood the clubs involved were Gloucester, Leicester Tigers, Newcastle Falcons and Northampton Saints, but the latter released a statement insisting they have not been in “direct contact with any investors from Saudi Arabia.”
Should it come to fruition, rugby would be the latest sport to receive money from the PIF, which has an 80 per cent stake in Premier League side Newcastle United and has also spent billions forming LIV Golf, a global breakaway league to rival the established tours.
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Accusations of sportswashing Saudi Arabia’s human rights record have followed The Kingdom’s growing investment portfolio but Hartley, who retired in 2019 having earned 97 caps for England, has welcomed the potential injection of cash.
What Dylan Hartley said about rugby’s potential Saudi investment
Speaking to LuckyBlock.com, Hartley said: “The game needs investment. The clubs need investment. Through chaos, we find opportunity. Who knew that Saudi might be interested in rugby let alone English club rugby.
“Before you go down the sportswashing argument. That story has been done millions of times now with football, golf and boxing. You can’t be too picky where the money comes from.
“People talk about the world in union and breaking down barriers. In Saudi Arabia you have 33 million people of which I understand 70 per cent are under 35. Those people don’t play much sport. Saudi needs sports men and women for people there to look up to.
“If you look at rates of diabetes and obesity, if you inspire kids by signing a Ronaldo or by setting up rugby camps or whatever it – and they even have a women’s rugby team – it saves your health care system billions. So there is a bigger piece to the sportswashing argument.
“They are trying and if they do get involved in English club rugby it would inspire kids out in Saudi Arabia. They are going through massive change. It is not just conceptual stuff. I have been there and seen what they are doing. Sport is a massive driver in that change.”
The Saudi interest comes during what has been a disastrous period in the history of English club rugby, following the collapse of Wasps, London Irish and Worcester Warriors within the space of a year as well as 2022-23 Championship winners Jersey Reds.
The national team also appears to be at a crossroads. With the schedule the way it is following a World Cup and the physical nature of the sport, Hartley said the time is now to implement change that will help all parties.
“English club rugby has to do something different,” Hartley added. “It has been broken for years. You need alignment.
“In Ireland everything works and is aligned to Ireland winning. Everyone wants the national team to win. English clubs don’t want to lose their players to the national team because they suffer.
“It is a tug of war with the players stuck in the middle. I know only too well as I’ve been that player. I’d return from a Six Nations camp and play a game the following week whilst still unpacking my bags and trying to re-learn the lineout calls.
“The players are pulled physically and mentally and emotionally they are drained.”