VR46 Team Announces Saudi Backing For MotoGP Project - Sportwashing Or Business As Usual?

There is good news and bad news for MotoGP. The good news is that the VR46 team will, as expected, make the full-time leap to the premier class for 2022, replacing the departing Esponsorama team. The VR46 team has signed a five-year deal with Dorna to compete in MotoGP during the next contract period, from 2022-2026.

Which bikes the VR46 team will use is still to be determined. The choice appears to be between Ducati and Aprilia, with a decision to be made in the next month or so. Given that VR46 are already fielding Luca Marini in MotoGP via a collaboration agreement with the Esponsorama squad, alongside Enea Bastianini, the most logical step would be for the team to continue working with Ducati.

In the end, the decision will come down to the level of support available. Alberto Tebaldi, head of VR46 and a long-time friend and confidant of Valentino Rossi, told Matteo Aglio of GPOne.com that having factory support mattered. The Aprilia was looking like a competitive machine, Tebaldi said, but the difference which factory support made could be the difference between success and failure. "I think that today, with the gaps that exist, this is fundamental. If you don't have support at the level of the official teams in MotoGP, it becomes difficult. You lose those 4 or 5 tenths, and you're screwed."

While it is undoubtedly good news that a team with the experience and talent of the VR46 outfit, and backed by the biggest name in motorcycle racing (and one of the biggest in global sport), the bad news is the source of the sponsorship. The title sponsor of the team is Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia.

Aramco is the highest valued company in the world (a title it competes for with US tech giants Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon), and a key part of the economy of Saudi Arabia, managing the vast majority of Saudi oil and gas production, which makes up 42% of the country's GDP.

Aramco is also a key part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 project, backed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aimed at transforming the country and reducing its reliance on the oil and gas industry. The country is trying to sell shares of up to 5% of the company to fund the Vision 2030 transformation programs, and to soften resistance to the program as the economy shifts away from a guaranteed income for Saudi citizens toward an economy based more on private industry.

Part of that shift has involved huge societal changes: relaxation of the incredibly strict practices imposed under the form of Wahhabi Islam which is the official religion of Saudi Arabia, allowing entertainment, loosening rules on the mixing of the sexes, and weakening the role the religious police play in the Kingdom. Vision 2030 has seen the building of a whole host of entertainment complexes as part of a vast construction program.

That is where the VR46 project comes in. The deal between VR46 and Aramco has been signed through Tanal Entertainment Sport and Media, who are heavily involved in the KSA New Cities project. Part of that project is the creation of a new racing circuit in Saudi Arabia.

The tie-up came through contacts between Alberto Tebaldi and Marco Bernadini, an Italian architect who is working closely with Saudi Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Saud, which started with discussions about a VR46 theme park, similar to the Ferrari theme park in Abu Dhabi, and then went far beyond to become a sporting collaboration including the Aramco title sponsorship. "It is a true collaboration, and fills us with pride, because we have been working on it for a long time," Tebaldi told GPOne.com.

The collaboration is part of a wider move on the part of Saudi Arabia. The Vision 2030 project has included tempting various major sporting events to the kingdom, including hosting the Dakar Rally in 2020 and 2021, after the South American countries funding it since its move out of Africa refused to pay for the event. Saudi Arabia has also signed a deal with F1 to host a race at a street circuit near Jeddah later this year.

This is because the Vision 2030 project contains a huge element of what is referred to as sportwashing, the use of high-profile sports events to gloss over Saudi Arabia's appalling record on human rights, and many other fronts. The use of popular, major events, and extremely popular figures is meant to distract from the dark side of Saudi Arabia, and boost its image globally.

The problems of Saudi Arabia are widely documented. Women are subject to so-called guardianship, whereby they are not viewed as having any independent existence outside of their male relatives. Sexual harassment and abuse is widespread, and the guardianship system makes it difficult to escape that abuse, as a surge in pseudonymous social media posts revealed last year.

Migrant workers are subject to the Kafala system, also in use in Qatar, whereby they are at the mercy of their employers who obtained their visa for them, and results in many cases in something closely resembling indentured servitude. During the Covid-19 pandemic, migrant workers were locked in detention camps in squalid conditions with little access to food or water, with many dying as a result.

Political dissent is absolutely forbidden, as is any religious worship outside of the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam. Those criticizing the Saudi regime for their approach to human rights are frequently imprisoned, such as Loujain al-Hathloul, who campaigned for the right of women to drive, and spent two and a half years in a maximum security prison as a result.

The Saudi regime also has a habit of executing its critics, either via dubious pseudo-judicial processes or via outright extrajudicial murder, as was the case with Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based Saudi journalist who was killed and dismembered with a bone saw in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

While Saudi Arabia is using the popularity and profile of Valentino Rossi to whitewash their own image, the risk for Rossi is that his own image and legacy will be tarnished by association with the Saudi regime.

Of course, this collaboration between the VR46 team and Saudi Arabia is hardly the first time motorcycle racing has been involved in ethically dubious projects. Though the long association with tobacco sponsorship largely ended when sports sponsorship was finally banned in 2006, tobacco giant Philip Morris still provide a large part of Ducati's budget. Ducati are also being sponsored by Lenovo this year, and though the computer maker is nominally a privately held company, it holds very close ties to the Chinese government, and its products have been banned for use by intelligence agencies in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Tobacco has largely been replaced by energy drinks as a source of sponsorship, though the ethics of that industry are not much better. Energy drinks have been linked to diabetes, obesity, and similar diseases due to their very high sugar content, and the purchase price bears almost no relation to the cost of production.

MotoGP holds a race in Qatar, which uses a similar Kafala visa sponsorship system to Saudi Arabia. They race in Thailand, where strict lèse-majesté laws ban all criticism of the Thai royal family. There are plans to race in Indonesia at the Mandalika International Circuit in a tourist resort which has been criticized by the UN for seizing land from local farmers and fishermen without offering compensation and evicting them from their land.

And yet the link with Saudi Arabia feels somehow worse. The human rights record of Saudi Arabia is far worse than any of the other countries MotoGP is involved in. And the role of Aramco as title sponsor seems to be a far more blatant attempt at sportswashing the regime than any commercial interest from the involvement.

It seems unlikely that Valentino Rossi will escape the tie up with his reputation unscathed. In the past, Rossi made a point of resisting tobacco sponsorship, and yet VR46 has no qualms over links to a regime which practices the death penalty on an almost industrial scale. A figure of Rossi's stature – the most important and significant figure in motorcycle racing of all time, and almost single-handedly responsible for the explosion in the popularity of the sport in the 21st Century – should not struggle to find partners willing to pay for the privilege of being linked with his name. Which makes it all the more curious that the VR46 team would make a conscious choice to agree to be the face of the regime which would appear to be the antithesis of almost everything he stands for.

The press release announcing the deal appears below:


TANAL ENTERTAINMENT SPORT & MEDIA ANNOUNCES IMPORTANT STRATEGIC AGREEMENT BETWEEN VR46 TEAM AND ARAMCO IN THE MOTORCYCLE SECTOR GP 2022

Tanal Entertainment Sport & Media, the holding company of HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Saud, is pleased to announce an important strategic agreement with VR46 Team, Valentino Rossi's company, for the near future of MotoGP.

In 2022 the VR46 Team will debut in the MotoGP class together with Tanal Entertainment Sport & Media with Saudi Aramco, as the new Main Sponsor for the period 2022-2026: the new ARAMCO Racing Team VR46 will heat the track supported by other important sponsors of the world scene.

Saudi Aramco, the company already heavily involved in motorsport including in F1, will therefore enter the 2022 MotoGP World Championship through the VR46 Team.

A wide-ranging partnership between Tanal Entertainment Sport & Media and VR46 Team which aim to communicate the major projects within the program, developed following the previous sponsorship agreement for the 2021 sports season, with their partners.

Shared strategies and vision, synthesis of a mutual sharing objectives, led to the extension of this partnership by signing this important five-year agreement: an extensive joint-venture between Tanal Entertainment Sport & Media and VR46 Team which also presents the activation and management of communication.

In addition to the traditional commercial promotion through the activity of the VR46 Team, a communication strategy will be aimed at promoting the programs related to the impressive Saudi Vision 2030 project.

Based on the Vision 2030, Tanal Entertainment Sport & Media will present the new scenarios of future life that will be created in Saudi Arabia, starting with sports and entertainment infrastructures for the general public, up to involving large urban projects in the name of sustainability keeping in mind the green vocation that characterizes the KSA New Cities brand.

KSA New Cities is the brand that promotes Saudi Arabia' majestic new cities projects wich include NEOM and Najima The Fantastic City. Project developed with the support of the Korean KMHG team and the creative contribution of Italian and Saudi architects. New cities that will involve sport at the forefront with different forms of entertainment such as the creation of racing track for young drivers and new competitions.

A communication dedicated to the various projects also in support of international industrial programs in the world of motosport, motorcycling and motoring, developed by His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Saud with MAIC Technologies.

Sponsor of VR46 Team and Team Bardahl VR46 Riders Academy MAIC Technologies role, is to develop and increment the production of road vehicles in Saudi Arabia. Also MAIC Technologies will produce the first prototype of a four-wheel drive off-road motorcycle with hybrid, thermal and electric propulsion, Joint by several partners from automotive Industry.

The joint-venture with VR46 Team confirms its intentions to take the sporting project to the MotoGP class from 2022, maintaining its presence in the Moto2 class. VR46 Team once again demonstrate its commitment and ability in promoting new talents showing its ambitious horizon.

The brand Aramco as the team main sponsor, will accompany us in the sporting future new scenarios with ‘our’ shared ambitions and projects for years to come!


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Comments

I commend the author of this article for the voice used in reporting this news.

Thank you, David.

Yes, thank you for the thoughtful reporting here, David.  These kinds of connections are too often quickly glossed over, or ignored all together.  Sadly, as you illustrate, they also seem to be becoming more and more common.  Just a couple years ago, prior to the GP in Thailand, I remember several riders participated in a publicity visit with General Prayut, the "prime minister" of Thailand.  He is in fact a dictator who effectively appointed himself prime minister after leading a military coup against the government.  Riders being riders, it's somewhat doubtful that many of them understood who they were meeting with and what he represented - but there's no question in my mind, I'm sad to say, that the people at Dorna who arranged the whole thing knew exactly who he was.

As many of the comments here - and your own analysis - illustrate, it's very difficult to remain morally "pure" when participating in international motorsports, and in the sponsorship deals which make them possible.  However, at a bare minimum, I think there's a responsibilty to do it with eyes wide open (and perhaps, in the case of some deals, to question whether you should be doing it at all).  That's only possible with good, honest, reporting - like that which you've done here.  This is what real journalism looks like.

I'm long overdue to become a site supporter, and I'm finally going to get off my butt.

Let me be the first to say: I don't care. Sports and politics don't need to mix. I don't care that Saudi-Arabia disagrees with that, sponsoring a team won't change my mind. And to be honest, I think articles like these are actually doing their work for them. I hadn't heard about that Vision 2030 project before and I wouldn't have if I was a casual MotoGP fan either. Something to think about.

In that sports and politics do not need to mix. However, they often do. And in this case, the two are inseparable. The VR46 team will be sponsored by the Saudi government through a thin veil of Aramco colours.

In that sports and politics do not need to mix. However, they often do. And in this case, the two are inseparable. The VR46 team will be sponsored by the Saudi government through a thin veil of Aramco colours.

That was a great analysis Mr Emmett and I agree with your (very balanced) conclusion. You were though a bit too cautious in analysis of the impact on Mr Rossi's reputation. In my opinion this move leaves VR's legacy in tatters and it is to be hoped that the sport, as a whole, isn't sucked into this vortex of money over decency. As for DORNA, what do they think this does for a sport which, for its development (and perhaps survival), depends upon more participation and support from women? Seriously do DORNA come out and say something like '...we are pleased today to announce a sponsorship from a nation which has perfected systemic misogyny? And expect to get away with it? If the objective was to damage the future of the sport - this would be a great way to do it.

I'm afraid that happened in the 1970s when the bikes became cigarette billboards. Even today with the behind the scenes Philip Morris backing motor racing is propped up by companies that have made trillions of dollars knowingly poisoning their own customers. This is another bloody page in the book already dripping with it.

At least Bernie Ecclestone had the stones to be unrepentant about it all.

... And 100% correct.

 

"It seems unlikely that Valentino Rossi will escape the tie up with his reputation unscathed." It's already taken a hit here. That sponsorship is as gross as it gets.

Is it wrong for me to turn a blind eye toward this marriage of VR46 and Aramco potentially bringing politically-charged negative attention to MotoGP? Well, I never liked tobacco or alcohol sponsorship either, but as long as it kept bikes on the track and teams in business, I was okay with them - even if I didn't buy into their advertising.  Human rights issues are several levels of worse than smoking or drinking, but it still isn't catching me in the feels, probably because I am so short-sighted that I can't look past my own need for motorcycle racing to thrill and entertain me. Perhaps it would be different if it hit me closer to home.  

World Championship Motorcycle Road Racing as a whole will not suffer directly due to a Saudi-state oil company sponsoring one team, but I could see the possibility of a manufacturer or secondary sponsor balking at sharing space with that company on a fairing.  In the end, the bikes and riders will continue to circulate tracks worldwide as fast as they can for as long as needed to hopefully win races, and in turn, secure championships for themselves, their fans, and their sponsors. Follow the money.     

David, you make money from covering & promoting Motogp, who in turn make money from 'unpalatable' sources. Your income is tainted too since Rossi is the cornerstone of Motogp. It is easy to criticise a rich man but they as they say, when you point the finger at someone there are usually 3 pointing back. Writing your opposition to it might assuage your guilt for a while but in the end if you disagree so strongly, you need consider fronting Rossi in a press conference and berate him face to face. 

With the greatese of respect: The fact that VR46 chooses to associate itself with a firm connected, through state ownership, to astounding human righs abuses doesn't obligate Mr Emmett or anyone else to do a damn thing. I think that Mr Emmett has done everything that could reasonably expected to raise the concerns associated with this issue and to inform the Moto community. It's also a false equivalency to (effectively) compare the sponsorship of energy drinks with the weight of human righs abuses connected to the regime in question - including the profound oppresson of half the population. And for the record it might be wise to remind ourselves of how this regime treats those with dissident voices - the story of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi is indicative enouogh of a lack of respect for life, and journalism. Sorry to go on, and promise to shut up now! P.S and thanks Motoshrink - I am going to take your approach and also acquaint DORNA and some other sponsors with at least one opinion on this. 

If David is 'tainted' by his report on the abuses of a prospective MotoGP sponsor nation because that is the sport he choses to work in are soccer journalists similarly tainted if they report on corruption in World Cup venue allocations or political journalists by reports of, say, expenses scandals?

I would suggest not.

David, thank you for the article and food for thought. My contrarian mind was really turning after reading this...

It is a slippery slope when you try to bring ESG (environment, social, and governance) issues into motor racing. The most environmentally friendly form of racing is none at all and making ethical calls from the point of view of a well-developed Western country in 2021 may look out of date or even criminal decades later.

Philosophically I remain unconvinced that current "Western liberal democracies" represent an improvement on authoritarian governments, pure democracies, dictatorships (benevolent or malevolent) or the myriad other forms of rule that bring societal order from anarchy. I may certainly represent a minority voice, but I remain skeptical of current Western thought and its roots in Kantian philosophy. I find myself more in the line of Thomas Hobbs and the concept of the "Social Contract", finding that the makeup of this contract is less important than the fact that the contract exists. 

Perhaps we have a current parallel with the United State's acknowledging that China is an abuser of human rights yet the country remains its number 1 trading partner (not including the EU as a group). The US imprisons more people than any other Western democracy. Their citizens are victims of gun deaths on a scale that dwarfs its peer countries. Should we stop racing there? Is the US whitewashing its image? US tracks are financed privately, does this make a difference? 

There seems to be consensus in the Western World and beyond that Covid vaccinations are the important life-saving tool of science and state responsibility, yet EU countries have lagged and delayed rollouts and injections among there citizens compared to peers. Should we disallow state financed venues from operating as part of the championship? How about sponsorship from the likes of Repsol which is majority owned by the Spanish state? Seems that the Orban regime in Hungary has vaccinated its folks at almost twice the Spanish rate. How many extra deaths does that represent? But wait, its not a single high profile journalist and they are just numbers so perhaps not as "real".

Means and ends. Kant was against using people as means to an end. He thought they should be treated as ends in themselves. Countries aren't people. Should we treat them as such? What about money? What about racing?

What the F$CK Valentino Rossi?! No. Bad. Horrible idea. I recommend a boycott of this project and organization. Please have a long memory and do not support this in any way shape or form.

Have been very closely following this, and did NOT see this coming. Expected an Italian affair. Had been excitedly anticipating the addition of a VR46 Jr Team, and what bikes they run. Now? No. 

"His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Saud" as they say can instead be referred to as "a-hole Saudi dictator." The worst of people doing the worst of things for the worst of reasons. 

Horrible horrible move Valentino Rossi and VR46 executives. Shame on you. This is the last I will speak if you and your project, unless to reiterate. 

They used Yamahas in the mock up of the Saudi Livery. I can't see ANY manu wanting to be associated with this. Ducati? Aprilia? Don't do it. 

So very disappointed. This feels... disgusting. Good account here David, and thank you so much for your integrity and thoroughness. I would also add the September 11th 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in the USA that killed many innocent people. Less directly attributed to the prince, but Saudi. Few worse regimes in the World. 

I have been feeling increasingly uncomfortable about the sport’s direction of travel. And now this. I should have seen it coming. There should be no place for government ownership in professional sport. Despite the pretty packaging that’s what this looks like to me. And, as far as I’m concerned, heros can’t change sides. Not even Vale. Its BSB for me next season. It’s honest, it hasn’t sold out. I’ll show interest in MotoGP via Motomatters and the Paddock Pass Podcast and I’ll continue to enjoy and occasionally participate in these discussions. But I won’t watch and I won’t care in the way I have in the past. I’ll miss MotoGP, it won’t miss me, it’ll be my loss but that’s the way it has to be. 

Thanks to David for bringing this up.  The prospect of the most beloved athelete in MotoGP teaming up with a sponsor which fronts for one of the world's most cruel and heinous figures seems like a good way to destroy the goodwill associated with the VR brand, and perhaps worse, the sport itself.   

Every media event, every debrief, every press conference, someone should raise this point. Eventually, VR46 management may see the error of this, especially as other potenital team sponsors will not want to see their names associated with the negative media attention.  If it remains in the public's mind long enough, it may also pressure Dorna to coax VR46 into finding a different sponsor.   

Nobody expected VR to finance a MotoGP team from his own pocket. As you suggest, VR should be able to use his reputation to find a better solution.   

Thank you David for an informative article that cuts to the heart of the matter.  I'm sad to see Saudi sponsorship of any team. Both my son and I love Moto GP and can't wait for the next event; we plan our day around it as does every one here I'm sure and of course it's the riders and their individual battles as well as the incredible bikes that keep us on the edge of our seats.  VR46 AND Dorna will be tainted now and forever for bringing this regime into the Moto GP camp.

Maybe this colaboration will shine a brighter light on Saudi's dealings? It may be harder for them to get away with things with a higher level of scrutiny? I'm probably dreaming. In the mean time all oil companies have and still do commit atrocities against ingidgenous peoples. Our addication to oil is an easily ignored issue. Let's ride

The Saudis have polices most of us find abhorrent, but ANY entity which has the ability to fund a world-level motorsport team will without question have done evil. You simply cannot amass the sort of fortune required by being nice.

The tobacco companies and alcohol companies ( formerly the main sponsors of a lot of motorsport ) have ruined millions upon millions of lives.

Do you think oil companies are not evil ? You don't know much about the oil industry then.

Of course tobacco and alcohol have left the motorsport scene to an extent ( except those sneaky Marlboro folks with their bar codes and tricky slogans ). So now we have a new boogeyman in the form of the Saudi regime. But even if the Saudi rulers were vaporized tomorrow morning, a new evil entity would fill the vacuum. It is the nature of the world.

I could go on at length about the monstrous evils done by various other countries. Here are just a few examples :  The UK committed the fire-bombing of Dresden, which was without question a war crime. The US used napalm and Agent Orange in its futile effort to make sure the "right" regime controlled Viet Nam. We could be here all day discussing the awful things other countries have done. The Saudis are no angels to be sure, but neither are many of the other countries in this world.

I am a realist. I won't hold Rossi's use of Saudi money against him any more than I refused to be a fan of Lotus when its F1 cars were sponsored by John Player. I wish the world were a better and different place, but the sad truth is that most of us are just along for the ride, and we're powerless to effect change on a world level. 

One last thing : your cell phone was made in China, which has one of the VERY worst human rights records in the world. Are you going to quit using that cell phone? Of course you aren't. And you aren't going to stop watching MotoGP either.

 

 

Great respect for you addressing this.

If we wound the clock back about 40 or so years we could be talking about South Africa, only a few more (or, arguably, less) Australia, or any of many other countries with unsavoury records of oppression towards large parts of their populations and immigrants. In fact all of the countries each of us is writing from has its share of shameful history. There are two points I'd make around this. First and foremost, there are good and bad people in every country and at every level of society, including within mega-corporates like Aramco. Across 20 years of living and working in several very poor countries as an aid worker, of the most  committed (to doing something about that) people I encountered, one worked for Coca Cola, the other for British Sugar Industries. And, in passing, I've known some extremely venal, ignorant, self-serving people working for the UN and other august international bodies. The second point connects to the first. Change is virtually unstoppable and this is heavily influenced by external exposure. The more a country or regime engages with or is exposed to other cultures, the harder it is to resist change. That doesn't always go smoothly - look at Libya or Egypt for instance - but over time it can be positive. So, even if this is just another sports-washing exercise, it'll have ramifications for the country, intended or otherwise, even though we might not see the effects (of the sum of the parts) for a long time.

Mandalika is another story. My reading around it is that the government has paid compensation but there are disputes ongoing around the legitimacy of some claims. I don't know the truth of the matter and I'm certainly not taking a UN report as the definitive account, so on that issue too, I'm keeping something of an open mind, though I suspect the truth may not fully come to light in my lifetime.

I expect VR46 have teamed up with Aramco because they want to win the title, not just fill the grid. And that needs serious money, enough to compete with the factories.

It does take time and a lot of patience.  We see oppression in the USA via racism and voter suppression and currently the UK is going backwards in time with regard to rights and access to justice. To go forward you need to take a first step. How many here are burning Saudi Aramco products without a single thought?

VR46 fan  for 20+ years . 

Very disapointing news from the VR 46 / DORNA camp obviously shooting themselves in the foot with such a decission . 

All honours to David and hopefully many others in the motorpress highlighting this wrong step for the future of MOTOGP . 

Critical journalism is more important than ever.

Very sad as MotoGP now has become better than ever. 

Money talks - Greed prevails.

VR46/DORNA  - Get a grip and please reconsider.  

First of all, I agree with all of the mentioned criticism of Saudi Arabia as a country of oppression, dictatorship and modernised forms of slavery, and then some. So yes, I too would have preferred to see an all-Italian effort, with sponsorship from the many big prestigeous brands that Italy has in so many industries. Whether that money would be completely 'clean' is however also open to debate, given Italy's folklore of spurious business transactions and organised ehhh 'illegal activities'.

But it's not just Italy with a questionable tradition of business dealings, I think I can safely say all major multinational corporations have a very colorful record regarding shady tax constructions, environmental issues and workforce issues in non-western countries in particular. Not to mention the influence/pressure they have on political leaders, who will comply on the grounds of economical reasons or just for plain career perspectives after their temporary political careers. Where there's big money, there is almost inevitably injustice in some form.

Saudi Arabia gets away with murder (even literally) in the West because it is such an important economical factor, trade partner or whatever you want to call it. Governments don't take a tough stand on their horrible record on human rights or their funding of hate-mongering religious institutions in the West, because there is so much money involved in export and/or because of oil supplies. And let's not even talk about what/who caused the war in Syria, destroying a country that was well-developed and relatively free and modern to Middle-East standards. A certain country that praises itself for spreading democracy played a very big executing role in that, and many European countries helped out all too willingly.

Like mentioned in the article, there have been (and are) many other big sponsors that we would rather not have had in motorcycle racing, if we had a say in that. The tobacco industry is a particularly good example, given their (now well-documented) attempts to cover up the health damage their products cause. But of course their sponsor money was welcome and needed by many. And then there's all the Chinese money (talking about bad record on human rights) that has bought so many western companies; maybe we should not buy Benellis or Volvos anymore, just to mention two examples.

I for one am glad that at least there is some of the Saudi oil money rolling back into our sports, and I hope that this exposure will also put the critical spotlights on them more, so that they actually have an extra reason or incentive to change things for the better, because more people are watching them more closely. And if they want to credibly promote and follow their 'Vision 2030' project, they'll have to act accordingly, I'd hope.

Lastly, I hope that we won't be getting politics involved on this great website too often, except for the racing organisation politics that directly impact the sport itself...

Hasn't Rossi had ethical lapses in the past related to money? Tax evasion. Reluctance to be involved with tobacco spnsership until he was sponsored by Galouises and Camel Yamaha and Marlboro Ducati and now jumping into bed with the Saudi's for the oil money. 
 

Unfortunately the majority of sports organizations, business corporations even governments have very blinkered views of the behaviour of some countries once they see a stack of cash. 

I think it's too easy to condemn one person (VR) or group (VR46) when one could argue that the majority of countries, governments and global companies have dealings in or with countries that have poor track records. Not only in terms of human rights, but also environmental issues and other areas of concern.

What about well known companies who'll do anything to get low cost manufacturing or low cost materials? We're all buying their stuff on a daily basis.

I could go on for days giving examples, but I've got to get back to work for a multinational who regularly gets flak from the likes of Greenpeace because they sell gas turbines next to their washing machines. Should I quit my job to make a statement and help our planet become a better place? Possibly...

 

Technically we could all hit the streets to stand up for all injustice untill it's gone.

 
You could also look at it from a different angle. Perhaps this will enable to bring those issues to the forefront and help increase pressure and pave the way to changes?

Would anything change if VR46 didn't make that deal? No.

Will something change now they did? Who knows...

 

David, This is one of the many articles you write that truly differentiate this site from all others covering MotoGP.  I also really appreciate reading the constructive and respectful debate between the readers.  Thank you to all of you as well - I learn a great deal from both the articles and comments. 

Valentino Rossi has been a massive inspiration to me.  Every weekend, I pack up the family and club race all over the east coast of America.  Much of it down to the love of the sport I developed from watching Rossi over the years.  
 

his association with the Saudi regime tarnishes my feelings of him in the twilight of his career.  I understand the drive to race and to do whatever it takes to get there, but sometimes we need to demonstrate some moral clarity and hold to a standard.   It's disappointing to see the VR46 brand tied so closely to oppression and murder. 

It will be interesting to see how this plays out for The Doctor. Here's an example some might be familiar with - Vicenzo Nibali, a Sicilian pro cyclist (push-bike rider for you gear heads) started his pro career on a team sponsored by an Italian cooking and camping gas provider. Not exactly green, but nobody seemed to hold it against him. From there he went to a team bankrolled by the regime in control of Kazahkstan, certainly a step (or three) down on the human rights and enviromental stage, no? From there he went to a team created just for him by a petro-sheik from Bahrain...certainly another (or more) steps lower on the world's nice-guy stage. The last two teams still exist today. Along the way he became for Italy his generation's finest racer, winning all three Grand Tours and a couple of one-day Monuments of Cycling along the way. Has his public image suffered? These days he races on a team bankrolled by an American bike maker and an Italian espresso company. I don't know that his public image has changed much despite whose name is on the paychecks. My guess is The Doctor is hoping the same thing works for him? The old "love the guy, hate his sponsor!" idea?

All the moral outrage will fade by next week. This won't tarnish Valentino in the least. In 5 years, when he has a different sponsor the fact of his Saudi sponsorship will be little remembered trivia.

Such a shame. I was imagining a list of companies that would of wanted to sign with VR46. That at the end of it al it is the Saudi's... sad.

the sport we love has been tied to terrible products through the history of sponsorship. Now we have social media to discuss it all. Maxine the anti Tabacco rage from the 80's-90's. The struggle when the fag money was gone made MotoGP what we have today which has brought the big money back (Marlboro never left). But now we take money from state sponsored companies. Does this mean the MotoGP is back to the crazy money days? What happens when a rider costs $20+million euros and 4 factory bikes and parts is $50+million? All of a sudden it's a hundred million with all other costs and that sort of money is crazy.  BUT..

Are we going to,watch ideas race for trophies on street bikes? Nope. We don't now. So when do we take a stand. Is this the point? Wha does Rossi really think? Is he really going to take less money from a similar rich crappy anti morals anti earth company? Every company in MotoGP is painted with a brush of money before morals. Why should the owners be any different. At the end of the day living has become a race where the score is always listed with a $ sign and as many zeros as possible.

sorry, rant over!

So as to not go off on a lengthy ramble and end up sounding like an Adam Curtis documentary narration, I'll get straight to the point:

It certainly would have made for an easier PR exercise if the sponsor had been almost any other company.

Although I do indeed feel the same as most of the comments above, I think it seems that you have all forgotten how much trade with Saudi is done every year in our name by both the US and UK. In fact the UK alone exported over 6 billion pounds worth in the years 2018 to 2019 and a great deal of that was arms. So I feel it could be said that we are all profiting from the disgraceful Saudi regime.
Ps A big thank you to David for his amazing coverage of all things Moto gp

You've reminded me of a stat; it'll be a little out of date now, but 20 years ago the UK government only needed to increase income tax by about 0.25% to offset the loss if we stopped being one of the worlds leading arms dealers. But that wouldn't work at all for the military-industrial complex. I won't even get into how much of the aid budget is given as weapons.

It's good that we discuss these things here, from time to time, and that as ever everyone is respectful and accepting of different opinions. Makes you think, doesn't.

 

Arms sales aren't just or even primarily about the money. The primary aim is to arm your supporters against your enemies. It's much easier to arm the indigenous people to help enforce national policy than do it yourself.

.. ergo we're all guilty.

Moving to electric may loosen some of the power that Saudi Arabia has, but it would be sweet if Rossi was smart enough to change them from the inside. You never know.

for writing about a "inconvenient truth".

Sports-washing may try to varnish over it, but meaningful change will not come about in the Middle East while Islam, and specifically, the Wahhabi sect, reigns.

And 'Shrink, thanks for the reminder. Fifteen of nineteen 9/11 suicide terrorists were Saudi citizens. All nineteen were from the Middle East.

And don't forget about Yemen.

Who am I to judge the path that one chooses in their life, whether that be a person or a nation? I have a past and am not a saint. Abuse of power for financial gain? Done it. Engaged in greed? Done it. I have not lopped a woman's head off at a Middle Eastern airport, but have allowed myself to entertain emotionally charged thoughts of violence at times. And does that energy go out into human consciousness and add to the unconscious dross that plagues humanity like space junk orbiting the Earth? That's a direction to point one's curiosity, rather than why Rossi chose to become the poster boy of Saudi Aramco.

How can I hold Rossi to a standard that I myself might not be able to fulfill were I to be wearing his boots? Besides, Rossi may be simply expressing his choice of free will. The move by VR46 to partner with Aramco creates more dialogue about what is taking place in Saudi Arabia. And that can be seen as good.

Interesting article and comments. Thanks everyone. Reminds me of my continuous connection to humanity regardless of how light or heavy the energy becomes. And the energy is always changing. Maybe there is a conscious intelligence that cares about the quality of and how we use the power of creation that we have been given. Only not in a judgmental way. The judge is alive and well here in this world of forms and opposition. That guy is busy enough inside the head.

There is no such thing as value free sports. As is the case with all human activity, motorcycle racing operates in an entanglement of politics and morality and in the end it will not be able to avoid defining its position.

I'm pleased by the courage David shows by criticizing the dubious background of the new VR sponsorship. At the same time I'm disappointed in VR, one of our greatest heroes in the sport.

Happy to see a VR46 team next year. The new chapter begins.

There's not much more to say about the negative side of things. I hope, in the years to come and probably after we are all food for worms, the changes taking place in Saudi Arabia will lead to some degree of liberalization within the Kingdom. Politics is always an unusal business. When you see the 'right' and the 'left' of western style democratic states screaming at each other across the apparently huge divide seperating them it is sobering and reassuring to remember that compared to most places on our wee planet they are near enough bed fellows. As mentioned, change has occured. I hope it continues.

Without stepping on anyone's opinions, for me if I want to discuss economics, politics, or ethics, there are places I can go. I come here to read about racers, racing, and race bikes. As far as I'm concerned, if Rossi can screw enough money out of the Saudis to fund his Moto GP team, more power to him.

The above comments make me believe that there are still intelligent and articulate people out there.

the rest of the Internet could take a huge lesson from this wonderful website.

 Congratulations David

A complex issue no doubt.

I'll make one observation, if the MSM and in particular the national broadcasters such as the BBC and ABC Australia and others, did not have an employee led policy that any criticism of Islam is Haram - then many more people, including the motorcycle fraternity would be much more aware of the evil that subjugates millions in the world...

It seems to me that we're all being a bit disingenuous here. First of all, all the commentators are assuming that there's a long list of companies that VR46 could have chosen as their title sponsor. Do we really believe that? How many companies in this historical moment are willing to allocate a fairly substantial budget to sponsor gas-guzzling loud motorcycles?

All the oil companies (except Petronas and Repsol... for the time being) are trying to project a different image of themselves, all green and solar; no way that they want to be seen linked to motorbikes.

Tech companies that surely would have that kind of budget (Apple, Amazon, Google):  they're all Californian dudes that go surfing and wear Patagonia gilet, driving huge Porsche Cayennes or Panamera (but with GREEN calipers). I don't see an Apple-branded Yamaha or Aprilia team.

But I really hope there's been a sort of intent on behalf of VR46, having been given promises that this is indeed a first step towards improving the conditions there (Saudi Arabia). This Vision 2030 thing, maybe it's not just projecting an image but there's substance underneath, willingness to make things better in terms of human rights etc.

Anyway, excellent article by David as usual, very thoughtful and balanced.

Dear David and co conspiritors! I really, really appreciate the almost blanket rejection of a Saudi financed sponsorship, or at least pointing out the difficulties in accepting it. 

I admire Davids corouage to point his out and publish an article about it. Sportswashing is a thing, professional sport and politics are in bed for better or worse. While I love motogp I will boycott certain races and make my views known to the powers that be, however futile it may seem. I feel we , us forum users, live quite a privileged life, and this is not ment as a criticism. With this privilege comes responsibility and it's good to excercise it as best we can.

It looks to me like VR46 is set up as an enterprise, to make money for it's owners. Otherwise there would be no need to sign up a regime like this. Plenty o fmoney available to run a professional team without having to compromise ones ethical compass. But then, Maybe Rossi's was always a little compromised.wink

What an utter load of trash your fake moral outrage is. Be consistent, stop using any product or service that supports China or their regime. What's that? It'd be too inconvenient? Stuff your virtue signaling where the sun don't shine. It's not Valentino's responsibility to be the world police. Don't like the Saudis? Lobby your government to stop supporting them.