Saudi hires Jadwa Investment to advise on selling soccer clubs - sources

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s Jadwa Investment, one of the country’s largest privately owned investment banks, has been appointed to advise on the privatisation of as many as five soccer clubs in the Saudi Professional League, sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

Banks had been asked to apply for the role last month, one of the sources said, declining to be named because the matter is not yet public. Spokespeople for Jadwa and the government’s General Authority of Sports were not immediately available to comment.

Last November, the government approved plans to turn state-owned sports clubs into private companies, part of sweeping economic reforms that seek to reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil exports, ease financial burdens on the government and develop industries other than energy.

The reform drive, led by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also aims to provide more leisure options for Saudis in a society where some forms of entertainment are restricted for conservative religious reasons, and encourage Saudis to lead healthier lifestyles.

The Council of Economic and Development Affairs, which is overseeing the reforms, directed the sports authority last year to launch a fund providing loans and other support for private sports clubs in the kingdom. It said the fund would create 40,000 jobs.

With 14 mostly government-owned teams, the Saudi Professional League hires foreign players under a quota system - players come from as far afield as Ghana and Brazil - but does not have a major international profile outside the region.

Bankers familiar with the privatisation project said the most likely buyers for the Saudi soccer teams appeared to be wealthy Saudi individuals, rather than foreign investors.

Additional reporting by Katie Paul; Writing by Andrew Torchia; Editing by Keith Weir