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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Qatar has ambitious plan for Paris soccer club PSG

Qatari investors have bought a 70 per cent stake in French top-flight soccer club Paris St Germain. (File photo)

Qatari investors have bought a 70 per cent stake in French top-flight soccer club Paris St Germain. (File photo)
Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) has ambitious plans for newly acquired French Ligue 1 soccer club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).

“We will work over the coming years to make PSG a great team and a strong brand on the international scene, one that will make all the fans proud,” said QSI president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who doubles as head of the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera broadcast network in a statement quoted by World Football Insider.

In a separate interview with French newspaper Le Parisien, Mr. Khelafi added: “We wanted to acquire PSG because it’s the only club in France’s capital city. It’s a big club with a history and super fans. Acquiring PSG is a dream, we are very proud. All together, us, the management, the fans, the players, we will do everything so that the dream becomes reality.”

QSI has a five-year plan to turn PSG into a major European soccer powerhouse that involves qualifying for the 2012 Champions League. To do so, the club has to end the league’s next season in the top three.

QSI recently took a 70 percent stake in PSG, who finished fourth last season’s Ligue 1 and qualified for the Europa League. Previous owners, Colony Capital, still have a 30 percent share in the club under the deal inked this week by Mr. Khelafi. QSI is controlled by Qatari Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

The acquisition is part of the tiny, oil and gas-rich Gulf state’s strategy to use soccer and to a lesser degree athletics as tools to improve its international standing so that it can continue to politically and diplomatically punch above its weight, enhance its image as a forward-looking global sports hub and create business opportunities.

Qatar’s strategy has recently focused on France. In doing so, it is building on its controversial success in bidding for the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the world’s largest sporting event. Qatar hopes to repeat that success when it bids for the 2017 world athletic championships.

Last month, Al Jazeera won the rights to broadcast some Ligue 1 matches and is discussing a possible takeover of or joint venture with Orange Sports TV. At about the same time, state-owned Qatar Airways said it had been named the official airline for this year’s Tour de France.

France is not the only European country on Qatar’s radar. The Qatar Foundation last year signed a $200 million sponsorship deal with FC Barcelona, a first for the crowned Spanish club. A concerted Qatari effort to acquire Manchester United failed because the club’s owner backed away from a sale.

Qatar’s foray into soccer has not always been an easy ride.

Its winning of the right to host the World Cup has been overshadowed by charges that it bribed two world soccer body FIFA executive committee members in its bid for the World Cup. The Qatari head of the Asian Football Confederation, Mohamed Bin Hammam, who was closely involved in Qatar’s World Cup bid campaign has been suspended FIFA on suspicion that he bribed Caribbean soccer officials to secure their support in a failed bid for the FIFA presidency.

French reaction to the acquisition of PSG has been mixed. Many Frenchmen believe that PSG will benefit from having a strong financial partner. But some 100 fans demonstrated this week against the acquisition by Qatar, the Associated Press reported.

In addition, Michel Platini, president of European soccer body UEFA voiced his opposition in an interview on RMC radio.

“I’m not a fan. Football has been a big adventure based on identity. At the time, when there was Paris against Marseille, it was the people of Paris against the people of Marseille. Today the Qataris are coming, great, but I’m not a big fan. Today, they are here but when they leave the club will be bankrupt,” Mr. Platini said.

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