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Yasir Al-Rumayyan has quickly catapulted into the ranks of the most powerful men in sports. His rise in sports has coincided with that of his country, Saudi Arabia, and its sovereign wealth fund — the Public Investment Fund (PIF) — which he leads.

Last month’s merger of the PGA Tour with LIV Golf is the latest notch on Al-Rumayyan’s belt. But his influence goes far beyond the business of competitive athletics.

Al-Rumayyan is also a big player in the energy and technology industries, reflecting the historic strengths of Saudi Arabia as well as its ambitions to diversify beyond oil.

Who is Yasir Al-Rumayyan?

The 53-year-old Al-Rumayyan was born in the Saudi city of Buraidah, located in the Najd region, where the Saudi royal family hails from. Al-Rumayyan is not a royal, but he does prefer to go by “your excellency,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Al-Rumayyan worked as a banker in Saudi Arabia and, according to his official bio, he graduated from Harvard Business School.

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Today, Al-Rumayyan is:

  • chairman of Saudi Aramco, the world’s third-largest company by market cap ($2.078 trillion), according to Forbes.
  • governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the world’s sixth-largest sovereign wealth fund, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, which values its assets at $776.7 billion.
  • and chairman of Newcastle United — the 22nd most valuable soccer team in the world, according to Forbes.

Al-Rumayyan and the PIF Empire

Al-Rumayyan is also on the board of directors of Uber, which he joined after the PIF invested $3.5 billion in the company, and Japanese conglomerate Softbank — a strategic partner of the Saudi fund. (In 2017, the PIF partnered with Softbank to create the world’s largest tech-focused investment fund, the SoftBank Vision Fund.)

The PIF empire also includes stakes in videogame makers Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts, electric vehicle company Lucid, tech behemoths Alphabet and Microsoft, and social media giants Meta and Twitter.

In June, the PIF assumed control over four teams in the Saudi Pro League: Al Ahli, Al Ittihad, Al Hilal, and Al Nassr. This year, Saudi Pro League teams have racked up top stars, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.

But the PIF’s biggest bets, arguably, are the “giga projects” at home: the futuristic city Neom and the massive tourism development known as the Red Sea Project.

What Makes Al-Rumayyan So Powerful?

Al-Rumayyan in in many ways presiding over Saudi Arabia’s new economic pivot, deploying today’s oil revenues to position the kingdom for success in the global economy of tomorrow.

But Al-Rumayyan is ultimately an extension of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful man: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS. It’s from MBS where Al-Rumayyan’s authority — and direction — comes from.

Since the rise of MBS’s father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, to the throne in 2015, the Saudi state has become centralized, moving away from its consensus-based decision-making process and fragmented system of governance.

In today’s Saudi Arabia, MBS runs the show. And that extends to the PIF, leading to questions about the Saudi sovereign wealth fund’s governance structure.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the PIF “run(s) differently from many other international money managers” as some critical investment decisions are made by MBS or Al-Rumayyan with little or no consultation of the fund’s internal risk staff.

Then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin meets with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, on October 31, 2019. (Image Credit: U.S. Department of Treasury)

Al-Rumayyan acknowledged MBS’s veto power in an interview with a Saudi influencer.

The PIF’s entry into entertainment is part of MBS’s Vision 2030, which aims to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy to prepare for a post-oil future and to liberalize without a political opening. (In other words, you’re more likely to enjoy a drink in public in Saudi Arabia in the coming years than see an elected government come to power.)

What’s Al-Rumayyan’s Next Big Move?

Al-Rumayyan is perpetually in motion. Some would like to stop him in his tracks. Senator Richard Blumenthal, chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, invited Al-Rumayyan to testify at a hearing in September on the PIF’s U.S. investments, including the recent PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger.

Still, the PIF could opt for a more conventional route to deepen its investment in U.S. sports. One option may be purchasing a stake in a professional basketball team.

In December, the National Basketball Association (NBA) voted to allow sovereign wealth funds to buy stakes in its teams. Months later, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority, purchased a five percent stake in the parent company of the Washington Wizards. Saudi Arabia could follow suit. In many ways, it’s trying to catch up with its Gulf Arab neighbors.

All the world’s a stage. And America is its biggest and most lucrative. Al-Rumayyan’s next big move could again be in the United States. But he may face greater resistance than before.

Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.

He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.

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