Petrodollars reign in world sport

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 became known that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup, a competition that had never been held outside the summer period and that it will do so between November 21 and December 18 to avoid the rigors of summer in the desert. A decision surrounded at the time by irregularities and accusations of corruption - it ended up claiming Blatter's own head - that will now force the clubs' calendar to be interrupted for almost two months and that illustrates like few others the power of the petrodollars that flow from the Middle East and that has put the football aristocracy at his feet at the stroke of a checkbook.

In these years many things have changed, from the sponsorship contract with which Qatar also came to the rescue of FC Barcelona -171 million which banished the Unicef ​​logo from the Blaugrana shirt- to the purchase of entire teams, the so-called 'club-states' ', where companies owned by a sheikh, an emir or a prince invest the surpluses of their oil, real estate or gas activity with the aim of obtaining benefits and promoting their country in the process.

The Slovenian Tadej Pogacar is with 23 years and two Tours de France under his belt one of the stars of the peloton. The United Arab Emirates pays him 6 million a year, which makes him the most expensive cyclist in history. /

AFP

This is the case of PSG, owned by magnate Nasser al-Khelaifi, architect of the purchase -or renewal- of Neymar, Messi, Mbappé... operations that contravene logic by starting from a club with "300 million losses » and that Javier Tebas, president of the National Professional Football League (LNFP), is not believed. Or Manchester City, in the hands of the Emirati Sheikh Mansour, who has just signed the Norwegian Erling Haaland for 60 million, to whom he will pay 20 million a year.

And what about Newcastle, until a year ago flirting with the relegation places of the Premier and now the richest club on the planet by the grace of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salmán, who disbursed 350 million to give 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 does not seem to scare away the 'hurracas' (as Newcastle fans are known): they accuse him of ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

sports doping

A phenomenon that has also been noted in these latitudes. There is Almería, from the Saudi Turki al-Sheikh, promoted to First Division. Or Nasser al Thani's Malaga, the first Arab to become the main shareholder of a Spanish club.

The premiere of the Premier Padel has reached the courts, with accusations of breach of contract, as well as complaints of pressure and threats. /

PREMIERE

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 proceedings-, nor does he consider that knowing that their property is in foreign hands diminishes the commitment of the fans, although with conditions. “Investing in the world of football offers greater opulence to clubs and broadens their room for manoeuvre. However, it must be controlled, according to the rules of each country and of UEFA itself, so that this market does not inflate or incur in 'sports doping', with teams taking 30 points from the next in the table. This is not an anything goes », he warns.

Golf, cycling, paddle tennis, Formula 1... There are many sports disciplines that today pay tribute to this financing model, which, in addition to the 'club-states', has given birth to new competition circuits. A revolution that for many is the manna that makes it possible to face multimillion-dollar signings even in lean times, tackle long-term projects with guarantees or feed the show with colossal prizes; but that for others corrupts the very foundations of 'fair play', making this a competition not so much of talents as of wallets.

THE PHRASES

“Investing in football offers clubs more opulence and room for manoeuvre. But there are controls to respect, this is not an 'anything goes'”

Fernando Sanz

Professional Football League

“Money as the only differentiating element has its limitations. There are values ​​such as loyalty that should come first»

Gonzaga Escauriaza

Pte. Royal Spanish Golf Federation

In golf, for example, the landing of these groups has materialized 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 injected new energy into Newcastle. The initiative seeks to attract the best golfers and has not gone down well within the PGA, to the point that it has suspended the players who have so far participated in the appointments of this Super League.

In the first LIV tournament, in London, the claim could not be more juicy: 25 million in prizes, four for the winner, the South African Charl Schwartzel, who raised more money than he had won in the last four seasons. He did it in a tournament of only three days -instead of the traditional four- and without cut, which in Jon Rahm's opinion impoverishes the competition with no other incentive than money. The 'betrayal', as some have defined it, is still standing and will continue like this until completing the 8 tournaments in Miami at the end of October -the fourth of them ended last Thursday in Boston-.

The waters go down churning

“Money as the only differentiating element has its limitations. There are values ​​such as loyalty, respect for a career and competition that should come first”, says the president of the Royal Spanish Golf Federation. In this 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 discipline that has been shaken, "not to mention how much It has disturbed players who have been on the PGA Tour for years and with whom they feel obligated. The director considers, however, that the scope of the LIV will be limited. “I don't think it threatens the holding of big events, like the Ryder. Those who have joined it are players who had already reached their ceiling and for whom a colossal prize represents an opportunity that may not be repeated.

The first test of the LIV Golf Invitational Series, backed by the great Saudi fortunes, has shaken the very foundations of that discipline and caused significant defections with the claim of colossal prizes. /

AFP

The waters also go down in turmoil on the World Padel Tour after the emergence 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 leave free time for new sporting adventures. A pulse that has already reached the courts in the form of lawsuits for damages, since figures such as 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 emerge, but that the FIP -non-profit- and its president become shareholders of the newcomer, contaminating a scene so far pristine. «Paddle tennis is right now a sport with great projection where investing is very cheap, at least for the great fortunes of the Persian Gulf. For them, financing a circuit of these is parrot chocolate and given its vertiginous growth, it is a first-rate advertising vehicle to achieve more visibility in the West, where they aspire to higher levels of penetration.

Qatari businessman Nasser al Khelaifi, president of PSG, celebrates the renewal of Kylian Mbappé. The French team leads the club-state podium alongside Manchester City or Newcastle. /

AFP

Cycling is another of the sports in the spotlight of the great Arab fortunes, who well understood the advertising possibilities of baptizing teams with the name of the country, 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 (charges 6 million a year). "Even so, a price without competition," warns Josean Fernández Matxin, discoverer of the Slovenian star. For what Haaland costs Manchester City, a top-level team can pay for two years."

retain new values

In his opinion, Arab money is “a tool that gives stability to teams and allows them to face long-term projects with solvency. We don't just train riders, now we also have the means to be attractive to them and retain them." Matxin encourages to banish debuffs. «We often forget that these people are passionate about cycling: they ride their bikes every day, they follow the races and they have built circuits like you won't find in Belgium or Holland... They talk about 60, 80, 100 kilometer rings; with showers, with shops. A hobby that, in addition, goes to more ».

RETAIL

twenty

million euros will earn the Norwegian Erling Haaland, star signing of Manchester City. Neymar do Santos has the biggest record in French football, with 4.1 million euros gross per month, followed by Leo Messi and Kylian Mbappé. All three play for al-Khelaifi's PSG.

4

Charl Schwartzel earned millions of euros in a weekend of competition at London's Centurion Club (LIV), more than in the last four seasons on the PGA Tour.

In Formula 1, the Arab influence dates back to when Saudi airlines sponsored Williams or the TAG corporation sponsored McLaren. Now it is Aramco, the Saudi state oil company, that has entered the Jeddah street circuit in the World Cup, where Bahrain has been a fixture since 2004 and Qatar made its way last year to replace a test suspended by covid. The Dakar also moved this year to the Arabian Peninsula, after an offer that swept South American aspirations.

Prince Mohamed bin Salmán walks the Jeddah circuit with Jean Todt, president of the FIA. In recent years 20% of the grand prix have moved to the Middle East. /

REUTERS

But there is more. F-1 has sold to Bahrain the pre-season tests that Montmeló traditionally hosted. And it has done so to the chagrin of the teams, clarifies the commentator Juan Carlos Otaduy, who now have logistical problems to move new parts from their bases in the United Kingdom or Italy, when before they were an hour by plane from Barcelona. Why? Send the money, which does not mean that the teams sponsored by Arab firms will multiply, although we will have 20% of appointments scheduled there. Will that distort the competition? Otaduy believes not, "another thing is that the show spirit of a sport of European origin does it, which lacks so much tradition there."

Source link