September 24, 2023

Analysts say the bid for Manchester United signals Qatar’s ongoing ambition to become a world sports hub.

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Doha, Qatar Avram Glazer was in the stands last month to watch Manchester United lift their first trophy in six years.

United’s League Cup victory over Newcastle could well be the Glazer family’s last trophy.

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The celebration of Abram was met with protests just a few rows before. Some disgruntled fans pointedly waved a “Glazers Out” banner at the American businessman, constantly demanding that his family be removed from the club.

In November, the Glazer family put the club up for sale after nearly 18 tumultuous years of ownership.

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British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, founder and head of chemical conglomerate INEOS, has applied for a 69 percent ownership of the club, the same as the Glazers.

The other major bid for full ownership was filed by Qatari businessman Jasim bin Hamad Al Thani, son of a former Qatari prime minister and chairman of a major Qatari bank.

Both parties were asked to submit revised proposals by Wednesday evening, but the deadline was extended due to confusion between the current owners and interested parties.

Jassim’s Nine Two Foundation press release promised a bright future for the club if it succeeds, including “investment in football teams, training facility, stadium and wider infrastructure, fan experience and communities that the club supports.” .

His attempt to take over one of the most popular football clubs in the world follows Qatar, which hosted the World Cup last year and won the right to host the Asian Games in 2030.

Jassim’s bid came as no surprise to experts, who say it is in line with his country’s aspirations to become a sports powerhouse.

Ross Griffin, an assistant professor at Qatar University, said his interest in Manchester United shows that Qatar is moving to the next phase of its ambitions, whose research interests include the portrayal of the Arab world in Western media and the relationship between sport and post-colonial society. .

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Qatar’s ambitions [in sport] splits into two branches,” he said. The first will continue to focus on hosting sporting events in Qatar such as the Asian Cup in 2024 and the Asian Games in 2030, while the potential purchase of a Premier League football club will be part of the second branch.

Griffin said that by hosting last year’s World Cup, Qatar was able to showcase Arab society to the Western world in a way that changed preconceived notions about the region. “They think we have brought over a million people to Qatar and they have seen our culture and society up close, so let’s introduce Qatar to the world now,” he said.

Ambitions for the future of the club

Jassim also wants to be associated with the club where he grew up.

Jassim’s application was made through his Nine Two Foundation, whose name is a nod to Manchester United’s famous Class ’92 team that won several titles in the 1990s. It is reported that in the same year, Jassim began to support the club.

He showed high ambitions for the future of men’s and women’s teams at all levels. According to a press release from the Nine Two Foundation, the debt relief bid “plans to restore the club to its former glory both on and off the pitch.”

Griffin believes that since “you don’t have to invest billions to build a brand” for such a well-known football club, more money can instead be spent on rebuilding the Old Trafford team’s stadium, improving the Carrington training facility and, importantly, investing in the local community. .

“If you want to bring Qatar to the UK, you have to show Qatar all the good things it can do,” he said. “You integrate yourself as part of the fabric and the community.”

“Qatar’s biggest asset is that it is very well-endowed financially,” the professor said, “and it will use that money to establish positive relationships, which the Glazers have never done.

“Over the years, the Glazers have raised money and shipped it to the other side of the Atlantic, but Qatar says it will do the opposite by investing in the community.”

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Fan Concerns

The city of Manchester in the northwest of England is no stranger to Arab football. In 2008, United’s cross country rival Manchester City was bought by a business group backed by the United Arab Emirates royal family.

About 240 km (150 miles) to the north, another English football club, Newcastle United, is owned by a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund that took over in 2021.

However, Jassim’s offer was dismissed by some Manchester United fans as an attempt to “smear” Qatar’s reputation for human rights, which had been questioned by Western media in the years leading up to the World Cup and during the tournament.

A group of club fans expressed their dissatisfaction with Jassim’s bid for United’s Premier League game against Southampton on 12 March by displaying a banner reading “No Qatari sport at United!”

However, some experts say that the influx of capital from the Gulf region into international sports is not about image-building or money laundering.

“This is not about soft power. It’s about money and management,” said Craig LaMay, director of the journalism and strategic communications program at Northwestern University’s Qatar campus.

LaMay, co-author of Football in the Middle East, said: “The Arab countries of the Persian Gulf are one of the few countries with the money and the unique ability to pay for these huge sporting ambitions, from club ownership to the Olympics and the World Cup.”

He said the oil and gas rich Gulf states would continue to invest in football “for as long as international sports organizations need funding for their competitions,” which in turn will help those states increase their visibility internationally.

“Football and other sports have always looked to the West as their institutions, and the governing bodies have also been based there,” LaMay said. “As they are challenged by new owners and investors from another region, the global governance of the sport may also change. There will be resentment on the part of those who give up power and their power.”

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Another group of Manchester United supporters have raised concerns about the bidder’s “close ties” to the Qatari state and the club’s potential connection to the state, which is directly linked to French club Paris Saint-Germain through its shareholding Qatar Sports Investment (QSI).

“There are questions about sporting integrity, given the exceptionally close ties between this challenger and the owners of other European clubs, including PSG,” the Manchester United Fans Foundation said in a statement after the initial bid was made.

The rules of UEFA, the governing body of European football, stipulate that no two clubs may participate in the same competition if they are directly or indirectly controlled by the same ownership group.

With both Manchester United and PSG sitting at the top of their respective domestic leagues, there could be a possibility of a clash between the two if they qualify for the UEFA Champions League or Europa League. Although QSI is a subsidiary of the Qatari state sovereign wealth fund, the Nine Two Foundation has not made any explicit ties to the state.

Others, meanwhile, took to social media to express their relief that the club could finally change hands with its unpopular American owners. They attribute the relief to the expectation that the move will change the fortunes of the trophy club, which had not replenished for six years before winning the League Cup last month.

They welcomed promises to reinvest in the club and restore it to its former glory. For them, it could be an investment that will help bring the club back to the top spot.

In terms of what the state of Qatar could get, Griffin said the answer is simple:

“Qatar is associated with one of the most glamorous football clubs in the world, an influential brand, a million-strong social media army and a worldwide presence that cannot be priced.”