Carrasco dismisses criticism of human rights in Saudi Arabia after transfer to Al Shabab

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium midfielder Yannick Carrasco made light of the criticism of Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record on Thursday following his transfer to Al Shabab from Atletico Madrid.

Carrasco, who is training this week with the Belgian national team ahead of a couple of European Championship qualifiers, asked the staff to organize a news conference so he could explain the reasons behind his move.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has come under heightened scrutiny as it has made major inroads into international sports, attracting some of the world’s top soccer stars and entering into a surprise merger with golf’s PGA Tour.

Activists accuse the country of trying to “sportswash” a human rights record marred by its involvement in the war in neighboring Yemen, a heavy crackdown on dissent and the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and government critic.

Carrasco follows many stars from Europe’s top leagues who have headed to the lucrative Saudi league in recent months, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Karim Benzema.

Asked about the country’s human rights record, Carrasco said he disagrees with the criticism “because people can sometimes think badly about things.”

“Cristiano is there with his wife and has an ordinary life there,” Carrasco said. “Neymar, Benzema, I went there myself. I see how women live there, and how people go about their lives. Honestly, it is a beautiful country. It is hard to judge if you only listen to what people say about it. You have to experience it yourself.”

Carrasco, who is 30, said he had only one year left on his contract with his Spanish team and the only concrete offer he received came from Al Shabab amid speculation he could also join Barcelona.

“I opted for security, looking at what I had and what I could get,” he said. “I’m more near the end of my career than anything else.”

Al Shabab, where he should be playing alongside Ever Banega, said Carrasco has signed a contract until 2026. The club did not reveal financial details of the deal.

Carrasco was also asked whether he made the choice for money by leaving Europe.

“It’s a profession,” he said. “When you have an opportunity, you think twice.”

Carrasco, however, added he was happy at Atletico and in Europe, but that he decided to leave for his peace of mind.

“I spoke with Axel Witsel about his situation when he was in Dortmund in his final year of contract,” Carrasco said. “And he told me he was thinking a lot, and was worried to get injured. As a consequence you don’t play relaxed, or at 100%. It was the kind of feeling I had during the pre-season matches. Once the offer was on the table, security came first.”

Carrasco joined Atletico in 2015 from Monaco, winning the Spanish league title and the Europa League. He played 266 matches with the Spanish club, scoring 47 goals and delivering 35 assists. His stint with Atletico was interrupted during two seasons when he joined Chinese club Dalian Yifang before returning to Spain in 2020.

Carrasco, who has made 66 international appearances, became the second Belgium international to join the Saudi league after Jason Denayer signed with Al Fateh.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press

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