Ryadah Sports Committee eyes Arab-Brazilian partnerships


SAO PAULO: Launched last year during an economic forum that gathered Brazil and Arab nations, the Ryadah Sports Committee recently announced its plan to incentivize partnerships between the South American country and Middle Eastern sports businesses.

The group was created by the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce — known as CCAB in Portuguese — a few months before the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, when relations between the Brazilian sports industry and Gulf nations were greatly strengthened.

Not only did athletes and tourists from Brazil have a chance to visit the Middle East, but hundreds of Brazilians worked directly and indirectly in the organization of the event and in tourism opportunities connected to it, instigating a growing cultural and economic exchange.

Headed by mixed martial arts legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira — whose chain of martial arts gyms includes a branch in Dubai — Ryadah gathers former football managers who worked in the Middle East, athletes, and administrators of different sports.

According to lawyer and sports consultant Pedro Trengrouse, who is the committee’s general coordinator, the idea is to promote joint initiatives between Arabs and Brazilians in order to develop not only the sports industry, but also “several other segments that can benefit from sports’ soft power.”

Thiago Mascaranhas exhibits the medals and belts he won in Saudi Arabia over the years. (Supplied)

One of the obvious targets is football. In 2021, the Brazilian Congress passed a law that allows football clubs, which have traditionally been non-profit civic associations, to become companies. This way, they can be partially or totally sold to other companies or investors.

“There are huge opportunities now. Arab nations have been investing in football all over the world,” Trengrouse said.

“Brazil is the land of football, and including football in strategic discussions may be the key for other investments.”

Ryadah will create opportunities connected to the organization of sports events and the promotion of tourism destinations, he added.

The committee plans to develop sports cooperation programs, support the exchange of athletes and managers, and attract investments.

“But we also want to use sports initiatives to expand the Arab markets in Brazil in areas like renewable energy, agriculture, technology and infrastructure,” Trengrouse told Arab News.

CCAB CEO Tamer Mansour affirmed during a meeting of the committee earlier in April that Ryadah “wants to establish a new age in the sports industry in Brazil and in the Arab nations.” He added: “Sports are education and culture. We will naturally open new investments in other segments.”

Ricardo Trade, an experienced sports administrator and a member of Ryadah, told Arab News that relations between Middle Eastern and Brazilian sports have been continually growing over the past few years.

He was CEO of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and deputy CEO of operations of the World Cup in Qatar, where he still lives.

“There were 300 Brazilians working in the Cup in Qatar, and the relationship between them and the Arabs was fantastic. They like to work with us, and we respect each other’s culture,” Trade said.

He recalled that some of those expats used to cook traditional Brazilian snacks such as coxinha — made with chopped chicken meat covered in dough — and the locals began to consume them as well. “The Arabs love Brazilian steakhouses too. The Cup helped to activate that kind of exchange,” he said.

But it is not all about football, Trade emphasized. Some Gulf countries have talented athletes in handball, beach volleyball and tennis — sports in which Brazil has a strong presence too. “Our partnership can benefit both sides to further develop those sports,” he added.

Over the past decades, the Brazilian presence has been strong in the UAE and Saudi Arabia with another sport: Brazilian jiu jitsu.

Developed by the Gracie brothers in the first half of the 20th century, that martial art combines Japanese judo and jiu jitsu with special techniques created in Brazil. Over the years, numerous Brazilian athletes took BJJ to other countries, including Japan.

In the UAE, hundreds of Brazilian jiu jitsu masters teach it in private gyms and public schools.

A similar phenomenon is happening in Saudi Arabia, said Thiago Mascaranhas, a BJJ champion and coach who has lived in Riyadh since 2015.

“A friend who lives in Jordan told me there was a position to teach BJJ in Saudi Arabia. The economy was weak in Brazil so I decided to go,” Mascaranhas told Arab News.

At the time, BJJ was not officially recognized in Saudi Arabia — there was no jiu jitsu federation — so he was identified in his documents as a sports trainer.

“But I felt warmly welcomed by the Saudi people. After a few months, I brought my wife and kids to live here with me,” Mascaranhas said, adding that much has changed in the Kingdom since then.

Thiago Mascaranhas and his family watching a football match in Riyadh. (Supplied)

BJJ has grown quickly, with new gyms and the creation of federations, leagues and championships.

The BJJ culture has helped popularize another Brazilian product in Saudi Arabia: acai. An Amazonian berry rich in dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins, acai has been consumed by BJJ fighters in Brazil for decades and is now popular in parts of the Middle East.

“Years ago, we used to buy acai when we went to Abu Dhabi for a competition. It was hard to bring it. Now we can find it everywhere in Riyadh,” Mascaranhas said.

Another significant transformation involves women. He said in recent years, with the social changes taking place in Saudi Arabia, many women have been training in BJJ.

“I have numerous female students. They can train and take part in championships. Some of them like BJJ to reduce stress, others want to learn how to fight. As an encourager of female sports, I’m very grateful about it,” Mascaranhas said.

Trengrouse said Brazil is internationally renowned in female sports, and can definitely contribute to developing them in Arab nations. The committee includes important agents in female sports such as football and horse riding, he added.

Mansour said: “Arabs are living a cultural revolution, a modernization, (and we can collaborate) not only with investment but also with our ideas.”

He added that sports not widely known in Arab nations, such as female rugby, have a significant presence in Brazil.