The lunch, the media reports and sources
said, was designed to salvage the financially troubled club at a time
that it was haemorrhaging an estimated €20m a year. It crowned several
months of efforts by Mr. Bazin to rekindle Qatari interest in the
financially troubled club.
A three-way deal
On the table, the reports and sources
said, was a three-way deal: Qatar would acquire PSG and step up its
already substantial investments in France, Mr. Platini, a member of
world soccer body FIFA’s executive committee would vote in favour of
Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup whose son has reportedly since
gone on to be legal advisor to Qatar Sports Investment; and Qatar’s
state-owned Al Jazeera television network would have an opportunity to
buy a stake in France’s Ligue 1 broadcast rights.
Mr. Sarkozy “was very interested in the
dossier. He was keen because these people wanted to invest in France,
but also because he’s a (PSG) supporter,” then Elysée spokesman Franck
Louvrier was quoted as saying.
The deal spotlights economically troubled
France as a prime example of how Qatar leverages its financial clout to
its commercial and political advantage with business ventures as well as
joint diplomatic initiatives in what amounts to a love affair with
France based on a concerted effort by the French to woo the gas-rich
Gulf state that started when Mr. Sarkozy was still interior minister.
Qatari holdings in France
To cement the relationship, the French
parliament passed a bill in 2009 that granted a capital gains tax
exemption to Qatari companies on property they own in France. An
appendix to the bill stresses the "very strong" and "privileged"
relations between France and Qatar, based on "the wish of the Qataris to
diversify their alliances and their partnerships so as not to depend
exclusively on the United States".
Qatari holdings in France include
significant real estate properties, including the controversial
restoration of 17th century Hotel Lambert in Paris; the equally
controversial investment of millions of euros into the promotion of
economic activity in France’s depressed and neglected suburbs through
small and medium-sized enterprises; sponsorship of Prix de l'Arc de
Triomphe, France's most famous horse race; the acquisition of PSG and
the club’s €100 million sponsorship deal with Qatar National Bank ; as
well as investments in major French companies, including Total oil
group, construction firm Vinci, Veolia Environment and Louis Vuitton
Moët Hennessy (LVMH), the world's largest conglomerate of luxury
products and French art.
Qatar also has an approximate ten per cent
stake in Lagardere Unlimited, the French media company that owns 70 per
cent of World Sports Group (WSG), the Singapore company linked to
disgraced former FIFA vice president and Asian Football confederation
president Mohammed Bin Hammam, a Qatari national. (For the record, WSG
has initiated legal proceedings to force this reporter to reveal his
sources for his reporting on the company, which it alleges is
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Qatar’s
ambassador to France, Mohamed Al Kuwari, explained Qatar’s interest in
France, saying that “you invest in France, you build partnerships and
you go elsewhere, to Africa, to Asia. We are looking for strong partners
like Total, Vinci, Veolia.” Moreover, he said, that France, like Qatar,
“has an independent policy, plays an important role in the world,
diplomatically and politically.”
Al Jazeera warms up to 2022
The three-way deal served both French
soccer and Qatar’s stated-owned global broadcaster, Al Jazeera, best
known for its coverage of the Middle East and North Africa. With Orange
opting not to bid for the French league’s 2012-2016 tender, income from
broadcast rights, the financial lifeline of French clubs, was likely to
drop with Canal Plus left as the only expected contender. That changed
with Al Jazeera’s entry into the fray. Its purchase of French
broadcasting rights for €300 million ensured that revenues remained at
levels to those comparable in recent years.
The deal allowed Al Jazeera to burnish its
sports credentials ahead of hosting the World Cup in 2022 as part of a
broader effort by the Gulf state to project itself. It also expanded Al
Jazeera’s franchise in a country that had no real sports-only channel in
preparation for a time when pan-Arab broadcasting is likely to be
overshadowed by local and national television stations that have emerged
as a result of a more liberal media environment in the region. The
franchise adds to Al Jazeera ownership of the exclusive broadcasting
rights in the Middle East for Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A as
well as the 2018 Russia and 2022 Qatar World Cups.
Moreover, Al Jazeera this year launched
belN in the United States with an English and a Spanish-language channel
in a bid to cash in on America’s growing appetite for soccer, start
promoting its hosting of the World Cup a decade from now and persuade
reluctant American viewers and cable providers who long viewed the
broadcaster as an Al Qaeda mouthpiece to start watching its news
coverage. The Spanish channel will feature Latin American soccer
alongside Spanish and Italian matches.
Controlling soccer rights is a key tool
Al Jazeera’s aggressive coverage of the
popular revolts in the Middle East and North Africa in line with Qatari
foreign policy and its reshaping from the outset of the Arab media
landscape through its mix of relatively independent reporting and free
debate sets it apart from most other state broadcasters in the region.
Nonetheless, with long-standing popular discontent exploding into
anti-government protests on the streets of Arab capitals, controlling
soccer rights is a key tool in a football-crazy part of the world.
"We are going to look at all the
opportunities in Europe. We are going to study each market one by one,
and if there is room for another channel, then we will go,” said Nasser
al-Khelaifi, director of Al Jazeera Sports who also is head of PSG.
Mr. Al-Khelaifi’s hope that PSG would win
the French title this year has been dashed but that need not prevent the
club from achieving his goal of competition in the Champions League
within three years, a goal of equal significance for Al Jazeera, the
world’s fastest growing broadcaster in terms of audience.
Qatar like the United Arab Emirates sees
sports in general and soccer in particular as a way to enhance its
international prestige, punch internationally above its weight, build
sports as an economic sector that enhances tourism and makes it a key
node in the world’s sports infrastructure and create leverage for
further business opportunities. Qatar has gone however a step further by
identifying sports as a key pillar of a national identity it is trying
to forge. In an uncertain world, the strategy constitutes a
sophisticated development of a long-standing Gulf policy that seeks
security by embedding the region’s states with small populations as key
players with multiple friends into the core of international relations.
An expert on Qatar who requested anonymity
argues that “Qatar needs all of this to survive. It needs to be
everywhere to compensate for its geo-political vulnerability. It doesn’t
have the means to pursue a long-term strategy by implementing itself
abroad or through its investment policies. They are handicapped by their
own demographics,” he said referring to the fact that Qatari nationals
account for approximately 20 per cent of Qatar’s population of 1.7
million. As a result, he says, “Qatar is projecting itself as the global
centre of the Arab world and a 21st century centre of the Islamic
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S.
Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological
University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The
Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.