Rising Tensions: Gulf Ownership in European Football

 

Rising Tensions: Gulf Ownership in European Football

Rising Tensions: Gulf Takeovers of European Clubs and Their Impact on European Sports


The Gulf takeover campaigns, particularly those by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, of European clubs and their impact on the European Union's sports markets have raised concerns. La Liga, the Spanish football league, appears to be leading a campaign against Gulf dominance in European clubs. They've leveraged newly approved EU foreign support regulations to file a complaint against Qatar's financial assistance to Paris Saint-Germain.

The complaint alleges that Qatar's government aid to Paris Saint-Germain has altered the pricing dynamics of top players in the European Union by paying higher-than-reasonable sums.

Qatar Sports Investments, a subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority (sovereign wealth fund), acquired Paris Saint-Germain in 2011.

Javier Tebas, the president of La Liga, has repeatedly cited examples like Paris Saint-Germain paying $260 million for Brazilian player Neymar in 2017 and offering $160 million last year to retain Kylian Mbappe.

This month, Neymar moved to Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal for $100 million.

The new regulations by the Commission allow for investigations into funding from non-bloc members to institutions operating in Europe and the "remedying of distortive effects, if necessary."

La Liga stated that it "filed a complaint with the Commission over Paris Saint-Germain receiving foreign assistance from Qatar, enabling it to improve its competitive position and causing significant distortions in many national markets and the European Union's markets."

They emphasized that such funding enables the concerned team to enhance its sporting performance and impact the ability of competing clubs to attract top players.

Analysts suggest that La Liga's complaint could increase pressure on the English Premier League to scrutinize Newcastle United, backed by Saudi Arabia.

British human rights organizations are leading a campaign against the Gulf states using their funding to deepen their influence in the country, calling on the UK government to intervene.

They've sent messages to the CEO of the Premier League, Richard Masters, the UK's Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport, Lucy Frazer, and the Minister of State for Trade and Business, Nigel Huddleston, expressing concern that the political, social, and cultural power associated with ownership of major English football clubs grants undue influence to foreign states.

They insisted on the necessity for the Premier League to adopt objective and robust ownership standards that prevent individuals or entities influenced by government authorities from acquiring English football clubs.

Writer James Dorsey, specializing in international politics, said, "Newcastle could be in a precarious position... resembling Paris Saint-Germain as it is owned by a sovereign wealth fund."

Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, acquired Newcastle United in 2021.

Following that, the Premier League stated that it had received legally binding assurances that Saudi Arabia would not take control of Newcastle United, but it didn't provide any clarification on those assurances.

Human rights groups have pointed out that a lawsuit in a California court involving the Saudi-backed golf league and the Saudi Public Investment Fund raises doubts about these assurances.

It's not surprising that European football clubs are concerned about the Saudi takeover of players, which has brought 15 foreign players, including prominent stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Neymar, to the Kingdom.

Following an attempt by the Saudi Football Federation to attract Liverpool player Mohamed Salah, club manager Jurgen Klopp called on FIFA to ensure Saudi Arabia's compliance with European transfer windows.

He believes it presents a challenge for everyone who needs to learn how to deal with it. Authorities should clarify that the same rules must be followed if they want to be part of the system.

The English Premier League transfer window ends on September 1, in contrast to the Saudi window, which remains open until September 20.

However, Newcastle's Saudi ownership has uplifted the club in various ways. The consortium of owners - minority owners Jamie Reuben, Amanda Staveley, and her husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi - boosted the morale of the staff and enhanced the club's professional image. They set a higher-than-minimum wage threshold, increased the number of employees, and spent $500 million on acquiring new players.
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