MADRID (Reuters) - The Spanish Super Cup tournament will be played in Saudi Arabia in January 2020, the national soccer association (RFEF) said on Monday, confirming long-mooted plans that have already attracted widespread criticism in and outside Spain.
“The Spanish Super Cup will be held in Saudi Arabia over the next three years and will be held in winter with the objective of easing fixture congestion, as players and clubs have been calling for,” RFEF said in a statement.
“Thanks to this transformation, clubs will be able to better plan their pre-seasons.
“The internationalisation of the competition will increase its value and at the same time contribute to raising our visibility and improving our image ahead of our bid to host the 2030 World Cup.”
The federation declined to say how much the deal was worth but said all income earned from the revamped tournament would be reinvested in amateur football and women’s football, aside from money granted to the four competing clubs.
Spanish newspaper ABC said the federation would earn between 35-40 million euros ($39-$44 million) per year from the deal.
Barcelona were drawn to face Atletico Madrid and Valencia will take on Real Madrid in the revamped tournament between Jan. 8-12. Those games as well as the final featuring the winner of the two matches will take place at the 62,000-capacity King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah.
When reports of the move broke in September, former Spain women’s international Veronica Boquete heavily criticised the decision, saying it represented “the victory of money and business above sport, above everything else”.
Spain’s acting junior minister for sport, Maria Jose Rienda, said the government would not support holding the competition “in countries where women’s rights are not respected”.
A ban on women attending soccer matches in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom was lifted in 2017 as part of a wider easing of social restrictions championed by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Under his rule, the kingdom has lifted a ban on women driving, eased rules on gender segregation and women’s dress code, and chipped away at a guardianship system that gives male relatives control over key decisions in women’s lives.
However, some barriers remain and several women activists have been put on trial.
Federation president Luis Rubiales said he could guarantee no restrictions would be placed on women attending the Spanish Super Cup.
Saudi Arabia continues to face Western criticism over its human rights record, especially since the October 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
La Liga’s president Javier Tebas opposes the RFEF’s choice of host, saying channel beoutQ carried pirated broadcasts in Saudi Arabia of global sports events, including Spanish soccer, to which Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports held the rights.
BeoutQ emerged in 2017 after Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies imposed an economic and diplomatic boycott on Qatar. The embargo was imposed over allegations that Qatar supports terrorism and is aligning itself with regional foe Iran. Qatar denies the allegations.
The channel is widely available in Saudi Arabia but Riyadh said it is not based there, and that Saudi authorities are committed to fighting piracy.
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Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Pritha Sarkar