The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia has bought a 5% stake in Nintendo furthering the country’s forays into gaming.

That may seem like a small amount to be investing into a company like Nintendo but the deal makes Saudi the company’s fifth biggest investor.

The transaction’s filing with Japan’s Finance Ministry says that the deal is “for investment purposes”.

It may also come as a surprise that a company the likes of Nintendo would be welcoming of the deal.

Nintendo preach family values and have done for years. Their in-house games are almost all directed towards families.

Nintendo’s website says their mission is “to put smiles on the faces of everyone we touch”.

That surely must now include the 81 people who were beheaded by the Saudi government in March?

A Nintendo spokesperson refused to comment on the deal. They stated that they only found out about from news reports in Japan.

Then again, Nintendo have just announced that they will fall 700,000 units shy of their anticipated Switch console sales for the year.

Esports investments

The Saudi region has been making several moves into the gaming sphere in 2022. The country seems determined to expand its portfolio of investments with a plethora of deals in the esports space.

At the start of the year, the PIF forked out over $1Bn in order to purchase the ESL.

They also bought FACEIT, the biggest and most widely used anti-cheat system for CS:GO.

Saudi combined the companies in order to create and esporting superpower, with a huge scope.

They also own 37.9 million shares in Activision. An asset that was losing the PIF money up until Microsoft stepped in to buy Activizion Blizzard.

Running alongside the PIF, the Saudi Wealth Fund has also been making moves into gaming. They have a stake in Capcom, Electronic Arts and Take-Two.

Esportswashing danger

Much like you’d see in other sports, with Formula 1 visiting middle eastern countries and China, or the World Cup being held in Qatar, sportswashing is a genuine concern when it comes to Saudi making so many investments into the esports and gaming space.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of sportswashing, the Collins dictionary defines it as:

The practice of a controversial company or country using sports sponsorship to improve its reputation

The phrase was coined by Amnesty International. They want it to describe the use of sports to distract from human rights abuses.

Saudi now have a 10-year deal with Formula 1 and have the majority stake in Newcastle United Football Club too.

Over the years, video games haven’t been scared to touch on real world issues and politics.

A certain mission in Modern Warfare 2 comes to mind. “No Russian”.

These kinds of things spark outrage and can even end up highlighting the real world issues that happen in certain regions across the world.

If that were to happen again in 2022, in the exact same guise, with the situation that is ongoing in Eastern Europe, you bet there’d be some vivid discussion.

Saudi’s investment across these video game companies basically guarantees that none of them will turn their creativity against the country.

You will not see a mission in 2022’s Modern Warfare 2 that depicts a middle-eastern beheading or even a plane hijacking (as we have done previously).

It’s all about shifting the focus away from the shady, back-alley goings on that may be happening in the country.

Human rights issues

The World Freedom Index placed Saudi Arabia 151st on their freedom ranking in 2020.

They were scored ZERO on Freedom of Domestic Movement and Identity and Relationships.

These issues, which Saudi Arabia consistently forgo when it comes to consideration in the public eye, are things that the country is trying to deflect from.

They want to be associated with owning FACEIT, with having shares in Activision, with hosting WWE Events, having Anthony Joshua fight there.

There are many things that Saudi Arabia are using in their aggressive sportswashing scheme. All in order to try and deflect from the real issues in their country.

Rather than develop along with the rest of the world and change the way that they operate and accomodate, they’d rather spend billions to try and force the world to show a blind eye.

In 2010, a Saudi prince, Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser al Saud murdered one of his servants, earning himself a 20-year prison sentence.

He won’t mind that though, his crime was on UK soil, allowing Nasser to have a fair and just trial.

He was having an affair with his servant. Instead of pleading his innocence, Nasser spent most of the trial trying to convince the world that he was not homosexual.

If he had been found out to have been having this affair in his home country, he would most certainly have been killed. This is just one other aspect of their country’s shameful approach to human rights.

More investments to come… probably

Saudi Arabia’s actions and reputation cannot be ignored, regardless of how many moves into the esports market they make.

The deal with Nintendo is just the latest in a long line of investments and deals that the Saudi government has made to diversify it’s sportswashing portfolio.

You’d also be safe to wager that it wouldn’t be the last. That being said, hopefully the people right at the top of these companies, who make these deals, are aware that they may be getting into bed with the devil.

Photo via REUTERS/Issei Kato

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