Soccer, at the heart of Qatar's diplomatic strategy
In addition to hosting the World Cup, the small Gulf country has invested in international soccer teams. #x27;Europe, including the very prestigious Paris Saint-Germain.
Well-known player Kylian Mbappé is among the sportsmen who joined PSG since the team became majority-owned by Qatari interests.
“Never in my childhood could I have dreamed or thought that players like these would come to the club,” says Maxime when asked to describe the composition of PSG, Paris Saint-Germain.
This supporter of the Parisian team, met in a sports bar in the capital, was delighted with the acquisition of Messi, Neymar or Mbappé, whose contracts are valued at several million euros.
Since an investment fund from Qatar became the majority shareholder of the franchise in 2011, the team has ample means to afford these stars. I saw a stratospheric difference, notes Maxime, about the money spent by PSG since the arrival of the Qatari owners.
Visitors waiting to enter the Parc des Princes, the Paris Saint-Germain stadium.
According to Kévin Veyssière, author of the book Mondial Football Club Geopolitics, the acquisition of the team from the French capital is part of a broader strategy of the small Gulf emirate, which, since the 1990s, has made sport a tool of diplomacy.< /p>
It's about bringing Qatar, this small country of three million people, into existence. And that is part of this strategy, Paris Saint-Germain, to make Qatar exist and associate it with a world-famous city, he explains.
Messi and Mbappé are among the stars put forward at the Parc des Princes.
It is a small country, wedged between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which needed to find niches to exist, adds Pascal Boniface, director of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, IRIS, which specializes in matters of sports diplomacy.
“Qatari leaders said to themselves that sport is popular and unifying, unlike politics or geopolitics.
— Pascal Boniface, Director of IRIS
Other Gulf countries are interested in soccer
- In 2008, UAE interests bought the majority of the Manchester City, UK squad.
- In 2021, a Saudi fund participated in the purchase of the Newcastle United F.C. in the UK.
It's not just the world-renowned Parisian club that has fallen in the sights of Qatari investors.
In 2012, Doha-based Aspire Sports Foundation acquired KAS Eupen, Belgium.
This team from the small town of 20,000 inhabitants, located not far from the border with Germany, was then faced with significant financial problems.
Players from the KAS Eupen team, bought ten years ago by a foundation in Qatar, s train in Belgium.
When they took over the club here, we were dead. We are very happy, because we have come to take over the club to give us the opportunity to remain competitive, explains the general manager of the team Michael Radermacher.
In a whole new level competition than PSG, KAS Eupen has a different mission. In recent years, the team has been host to many young talents, some of whom have evolved on different European grounds.
The recruited players came from different parts of the world. Thus, some players from the Qatar national soccer team, which will take part in the World Cup competitions, have set foot in the KAS Eupen stadium.
African players, trained in the facilities set up by the Aspire Foundation in Senegal, were also part of the Belgian team.
Michael Radermacher is director of KAS Eupen and was already part of the organization before the team was bought by a Qatari foundation.
In Belgium, it's easy, you can take over a 100% club. […] And in addition, in Belgium, there is a way to let a lot of foreigners play, explains the general manager of KAS Eupen, Michael Radermacher, to explain why the Qatari foundation has set its sights on his team.
Pascal Boniface, of IRIS, sees in this type of investment another way for Qatar to use sport for diplomatic purposes.
To donate sports equipment or taking young people on internship to train them, it creates links, he says
“Through sport, you develop economic ties. If there is a player who becomes a star after being trained in Qatar, it will have a positive impact on the image of Qatar in this country.
— Pascal Boniface, Director of IRIS.
The Qatari Aspire Foundation owns KAS Eupen, Belgium.
This strategy of investing in sport will culminate with the holding of the World Cup next week in Doha, the capital of Qatar.
Even more than Qatari involvement in European teams, this major sporting event is bringing the small Gulf country to the world's attention, and not just for the right reasons.
I think that Qatar wanted to bet on the visibility of the sport, but that they perhaps did not calculate, at the beginning, that this visibility was going to also practice on the most questionable aspects, analyzes Pascale Boniface.
Doha is the subject of environmental criticism, due to the air conditioning of the stadiums that will host the competitions.
Germans called for a boycott of the World Cup in Qatar, during a soccer game in Freiburg Im Breisgau.
Qatar is also singled out for the conditions of foreign workers who have contributed to the construction of sports infrastructure. According to an investigation by the British newspaper The Guardian, 6,500 foreign workers have died in the emirate since winning the World Cup.
It is for these reasons that French cities, such as Paris, Lille, Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, have decided not to broadcast the games in the public space and not to dedicate spaces to supporters of the France, as had been the case in previous events.
“It's an abomination on the In terms of human rights, these are lives that were sacrificed on the World Cup and it is also an aberration on the ecological level because we will try to cool the atmosphere, which is also warming up.
—Gregory Doucet, Mayor of Lyon
According to sports geopolitics expert Kévin Veyssière, this form of boycott is a bit hypocritical, particularly in the case of the French capital.
Kévin Veyssière, author of books on the geopolitics of sport, in front of the Parc des Princes, in Paris.
He recalls that Paris Saint-Germain, which is the pride of many Parisians, is after all owned by Qatari interests. The mayor of the city is sometimes visible in the grandstand of the Parc des Princes, the club's stadium, not far from the general manager of the team, himself from the Gulf country.
Then, beyond soccer, Kévin Veyssière recalls that investors from Doha have left their mark elsewhere in the capital, particularly on the issue of luxury tourism, to revitalize hotels .
Even Printemps, a well-known department store on Boulevard Haussmann, has passed mostly into the hands of Qatari interests.
How Qatar will continue to be talked about in the French capital, even after the World Cup is over.