The eruption of great fortunes from the Persian Gulf in the best football, golf, cycling or Formula 1 competitions confronts those who see their values at risk and those who applaud a model that activates the spectacular nature of the competition
There are dates and dates. And the one on December 2, 2010, with the then FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, his master of ceremonies, is one of them. That day it was announced that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup, a match never before held outside the summer period, and that it will take place between November 21 and December 18 to avoid the rigors of summer in the desert. A decision at the time surrounded by irregularities and allegations of corruption – it eventually claimed Blatter’s own head – that will now interrupt the clubs calendar for nearly two months and that illustrates like few others the power of the petrodollars flowing from the Middle East and that has put the football aristocracy at his feet with a check.
Much has changed in these years, from the sponsorship contract with which Qatar also came to the aid of FC Barcelona -171 million that banned the Unicef logo from the Blaugrana shirt to the purchase of entire teams, the so-called “club states”, where companies who are owned by a sheik, an emir or a prince invest the surpluses of their oil, real estate or gas activity with the aim of gaining benefits while promoting their country.
This is the case of PSG, owned by magnate Nasser al-Khelaifi, architect of the purchase -or renewal- of Neymar, Messi, Mbappé… operations that go against logic by leaving a club with “300 million lose” and that Javier Tebas, president of the National Professional Football League (LNFP), is not believed. Or Manchester City, owned by Emirati Sheikh Mansour, who has just signed Norwegian Erling Haaland for 60 million, to whom he will pay 20 million a year.
And what about Newcastle, which until a year ago flirted with the prime minister’s relegation spots and now the richest club in the world by the grace of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salmán, who paid 350 million to signal a change of direction. Ideologist of the Smart City NEOM on the shores of the Red Sea -no roads, no cars…the future has arrived-, owner of the oil company Aramco, of the Saudi Public Investment Fund. Salman also has a dark side that doesn’t seem to deter the ‘hurracas’ (as Newcastle fans are called): they accuse him of ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A phenomenon that has also been observed at these latitudes. Almería, from Saudi Turki al-Sheikh, has been promoted to First Division. Or Malaga from Nasser al Thani, the first Arab to become the main shareholder of a Spanish club.
His predecessor, Fernando Sanz, now recycled into the professional football league, does not criticize the model – he saved his club when it was in bankruptcy – nor does he believe that knowing their property is in foreign hands is the stakes. from the fans, albeit under certain conditions. “Investing in the football world offers clubs more opulence and expands their leeway. However, it must be controlled, according to the rules of each country and UEFA itself, so that this market does not inflate or lead to ‘sports doping’, with teams taking 30 points from the next in the table. This is not an all-you-can-eat,” he warns.
Golf, cycling, paddle tennis, Formula 1… Many sports disciplines today pay tribute to this financing model, which has led to new competition circuits in addition to the ‘club states’. A revolution that for many is the manna that makes it possible to sign for millions of dollars even in lean times, tackle long-term projects with guarantees or feed the show with colossal prizes; but for others that corrupts the very foundations of fair play, making this not so much a contest of talents as of purses.
In golf, for example, the landing of these groups has manifested itself in the creation of the LIV, an alternative circuit to the PGA and the European that has already managed to attract figures of the stature of Dustin Johnson, Sergio García or Phil Mickelson and behind which is the same investment fund that has energized Newcastle. The initiative is designed to attract the best golfers and has not gone down well within the PGA, to the point of suspending the players who have so far participated in this Super League’s nominations.
In the first LIV tournament, in London, the claim could not have been juicier: 25 million in prizes, four for the winner, South African Charl Schwartzel, who raised more money than he had won in the last four seasons. He did it in a three-day tournament – instead of the traditional four – and no cut, which Jon Rahm says impoverishes the competition with no incentive but money. The ‘betrayal’, as some have defined it, still stands and will remain so until the end of the 8 tournaments in Miami at the end of October -the fourth ended last Thursday in Boston-.
“Money as the only distinguishing element has its limitations. There are values like loyalty, respect for a career and competition that must come first,” said the president of the Royal Spanish Golf Federation. In that sense, Gonzaga Escauriaza has nothing but words of gratitude for Jon Rahm, who, like Rory Mcllroy, has stepped forward to defend the essence of a shuffled discipline, “not to mention how much it has disturbed players who have been on the PGA Tour for years and who they feel obligated to. However, the director believes the scope of the LIV will be limited. “I don’t think it poses a threat to holding big events like the Ryder Those who have joined are players who have already reached their ceiling and for whom a colossal prize is an opportunity not to be repeated.
The waters are also going into turmoil on the World Padel Tour following the rise of the Premier Padel, a circuit in which the International Federation (FIP) and, again, Nasser al Khelaifi go hand in hand, to whom PSG seems to be leaving free time for new sporting adventures. A pulse that has already reached the courts in the form of lawsuits for damages, as figures like Juan Lebrón or Ale Galán had exclusive contracts until 2024.
For Alfredo Garbisu, former president of the Spanish Federation and now in charge of the Intercontinental, the problem is not so much that new circuits are created, but that the FIP -non-profit- and its president become shareholders of the newcomer, creating a scene infected hitherto pristine. “Paddle tennis is currently a big-projection sport where investing is very cheap, at least for the great fortune of the Persian Gulf. For them, financing a circuit of this is parrot chocolate and given its staggering growth, it is a prime advertising tool to gain more visibility in the West, where they are aiming for higher penetration.
Cycling is one of the sports that has been in the spotlight of the great Arab fortunes, who well understood the advertising opportunities of christening teams with the country’s name, in the case of Mikel Landa’s Bahrain Victorius or Tadej Pogacar’s UAE Emirates, twice winner of the gala round -not so in the last edition, where he was beaten by Vingegaard- and the most expensive cyclist in history (calculates 6 million per year). “Yet a price without competition,” warns Josean Fernández Matxin, discoverer of the Slovenian star. For what Haaland costs Manchester City, a top team can pay for two years.”
In his opinion, Arab money is “a tool that gives teams stability and allows them to take on long-term projects with solvency. We don’t just train riders, now we have the tools to be attractive to them and keep them.” Matxin encourages eliminating debuffs. “We often forget that these people have a passion for cycling: they ride every bike day, they follow the races and they have built circuits like you will not find in Belgium or the Netherlands… They talk about 60, 80, 100 kilometers of rings, with showers, with shops.A hobby that also leads to more ».
million euros earns Norwegian Erling Haaland, star asset of Manchester City. Neymar do Santos has the biggest record in French football, with €4.1 million gross per month, followed by Leo Messi and Kylian Mbappe. All three play for al-Khelaifi’s PSG.
Charl Schwartzel made millions in a competition weekend at London’s Centurion Club (LIV), more than in the past four seasons on the PGA Tour.
In Formula 1, the Arab influence goes back to the time when Saudi airlines sponsored Williams or the TAG company sponsored McLaren. Now it is Aramco, the Saudi state oil company, that has entered the Jeddah street circuit during the World Cup, where Bahrain has been a fixture since 2004 and Qatar found its way last year to replace a test suspended by covid. The Dakar also moved to the Arabian Peninsula this year, after an offer that swept South American aspirations.
But there’s more. F-1 has sold the pre-season tests that Montmeló traditionally hosted to Bahrain. And to the chagrin of the teams, commentator Juan Carlos Otaduy clarifies, who now has logistical difficulties moving new parts from their bases in the UK or Italy, whereas previously they took an hour by plane from Barcelona. Why? Send the money, which does not mean that the teams sponsored by Arab companies will multiply, although we will have 20% of the appointments there. Will that distort competition? Otaduy doesn’t believe so, “another thing is the show spirit of a sport of European origin, which lacks so much tradition there.”
Source: La Verdad