The soccer field has long pitted one country against another. Recent developments suggest that the goal posts may have changed, transforming the pitch into a battlefield of subsidiary warfare.
Last spring, Qatar rolled out its state-funded transmission network, beIn Media Group, to sabotage Saudi Arabia’s effort to purchase the equipment from Newcastle United. The company, which owns the regional broadcast rights to the games of the Premier League, contacted the 20 teams in the league and accused Riyadh of “diverting their broadcast signals.”
While this could have been a trade move, it could also have been another skirmish in Qatar’s “subsidiary war” against Saudi Arabia and its allies, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, over the Islamism issue.
Since roughly 2011, the Saudi Arabian axis has opposed Qatari terrorist financing and ties to Iran. Qatar has given Hamas $ 1.1 billion, backed the Muslim Brotherhood and sponsored Islamists in civil wars that destabilize Libya, Syria and Yemen. In 2017, the Riyadh axis launched a blockade against Qatar that lasted for three and a half years.
The lockdown ended in January, but tensions continue to simmer, especially on the soccer field.
Despite its small size, Qatar enjoys great influence and oil wealth. He has donated nearly $ 5 billion to American universities and sponsors Aljazeera. Now he seeks to exert an international cultural influence through soccer, the world’s most popular sport. Soccer offers Qatar the opportunity to supplant Saudi and Emirati influence, capture the world’s attention and sanitize its Islamism.
The UAE is a major sponsor of world football, but Qatar would like to change that. Jaimie Fuller, president of the Foundation for Sporting Integrity, said in an interview: “The UAE has been involved in soccer [inversión] For a long time. It seems that their main objectives are the commercial game for profit and to strengthen their global image … It is not clear exactly what the strategy is [de Qatar]Apart from ‘the UAE is doing this, so we have to get a piece of the business.’ ”
Since 2002, the UAE state airline, Emirates, has sponsored the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), which has 47 national teams. Has sponsored the Arsenal FC of London, whose jersey and stadium brandished the word “Emirates”, since 2004. He partnered with the Hamburg SV of Germany and the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) from France in 2006, the AC Milan from Italy in 2007 and Olympiacos SV from Greece in 2008.
In 2009, Etihad Airways, another UAE state sponsored airline, partnered with the Manchester City, a team owned by an Emirati sheikh. The team’s stadium is called Etihad.
It is no coincidence that Qatar began its attempts to change the Middle East around the same time that it began investing in football. The cultural often overshadows the political.
In 2010, just a year before participating in the invasion of Libya, which fueled the subsidiary war [proxy war] Today, Qatar won the host rights for the 2022 World Cup. Before that, Qatar’s involvement in soccer was minimal, except for the corruption-plagued AFC presidency of Muhammad bin Hammam from 2002 to 2011 .
However, since 2010, Qatar has sponsored partnerships through its state Qatar Airways, ostensibly to undermine the United Arab Emirates. In 2017, Qatar Airways partnered with FIFA and usurped Emirates, which was FIFA’s partner airline from 2006 to 2014.
In his book Whatever It Takes — the Inside Story of the FIFA Way, the former senior executive of the Australian Football Federation, Bonita Mersiades, notes that it was “public knowledge that if Emirates did not renew its sponsorship [FIFA]As rumored, Qatar Airways was ready to take its place. “
And while Emirates once sponsored PSG, Qatar Sports Investments bought it in 2011, perhaps fueling the “awkward” environment that made Emirates decide not to renew its partnership with PSG in 2018.
Qatar Airways has also partnered with the elite clubs of Europe, Bayern Munich and AS Roma in 2018, and FC Barcelona between 2013 and 2017, which the Qatar Foundation sponsored between 2011 and 2013.
Qatar’s movements drew attention. In May 2013, Emirates was symbolically associated with Real Madrid, rival of FC Barcelona. And it did so in a symbolic moment: a year after the moment when Saudi Arabia’s allies cut diplomatic relations with Qatar and when Qatar Airways began sponsoring FC Barcelona.
In 2015, Emirates partnered with S.L. Benfica, transferring the subsidiary war to Portugal, and with the FA Cup, crowning his conquest of English football, where Qatar remains effectively absent.
As the patronage of the UAE grew over the past decade, its allies also entered the fray. In 2013, Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz al-Saud bought a 50% stake in Sheffield United, the entirety of which he owns today. The same year, perhaps to counteract the then role of Qatar with FC Barcelona, the Samba Bank Saudi Arabia was associated with this. Unlike Qatar Airways, it remains a member of the club today.
Other Emirati allies have also intervened. In 2013, Bahraini Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Khalifa became president of the AFC, a title held by a Qatari two years earlier. In 2018, the Egyptian state entity Bank of Cairo partnered with him Arsenal.
Qatar responded to these movements with counterattacks. In 2014, he created beIn Sports, which had exclusive regional broadcast rights for the 2018 World Cup and the Premier League. Saudi Arabia challenged that monopoly, broadcasting World Cup matches through its channel. beoutQ.
In 2018, Qatar Airways moved to South America, partnering with the CONMEBOL soccer confederation and Argentina’s main club, Boca Juniors. In 2019, it partnered with the Philippine Soccer League, undermining the AFC sponsorship of Emirates and the stronghold of Asia. Last August, Qatar Airways traveled to Africa, partnering with the Club African from Tunisia.
With world soccer dominance in sight, Qatar is now seeking a stake in Leeds United and the Premier League dominated by Emirates.
Qatari associations are a offside which allows him to increase his popularity while financing terrorism and Islamist insurrections. Fans must demand better corporate responsibility from their clubs as the soccer field turns into a battlefield.
Source: BESA Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies
Jordan Cope is the Qatari Finance Fellow and the Middle East Forum.