Qatar’s grand plan for world sporting domination

From the FIFA World Cup to Formula One, how Qatar is taking over the world one sport at a time.

Peter Iantorno July 20, 2015

On July 28, British horse racing meet Glorious Goodwood will get underway.

With many of its races having first taken place all the way back in 1840, the event is one of the oldest and most famous in the British flat racing calendar. However, in 2015, for the first time in its history, the meet will not be known as Glorious Goodwood. This year it will officially be called the Qatar Goodwood Festival.

It may not have quite the same ring to it as Glorious Goodwood, but with £4.5 million (more than AED25 million) invested in this year’s prize pot alone and the investment promised to rise year-on-year for the next decade – making it the biggest sponsorship deal in British horse racing history - money is clearly a bigger motivator than heritage, and Qatar has most certainly got the money.

Of course, Glorious Goodwood is far from the first Qatari involvement in sport at the highest level. In addition to a whole catalogue of bids to bring sport to its own shores (the 2022 FIFA World Cup, 2019 Athletics World Championships and 2015 Handball World Championships, to name just a few), the country has its own investments arm, Qatar Sports Investment (QSI), devoted entirely to controlling its sporting interests.

QSI is considering investing between $7 billion and $8 billion to buy out a 35.5 per cent stake of the holding company that owns F1.

Football represents a particularly strong suit in the country’s investment portfolio, which got stronger in 2011 when QSI wrestled the highly prized real estate of FC Barcelona’s shirt sponsorship from the charity Unicef - a deal that broke a 110-year-old tradition of the Catalan club not accepting corporate shirt sponsors.

That year also saw QSI become the majority shareholder of Paris Saint Germain, after it bought a controlling 70 per cent stake in the club, going to purchase the remaining 30 per cent in 2012, transforming PSG into one of the world’s footballing elite in the matter of a couple of years.

All this is going on, of course, to the backdrop of Qatar’s biggest sporting statement: the highly controversial 2022 FIFA World Cup, which was awarded to Qatar in 2010 and has since seen football’s governing body implode in a hail of bribery and corruption claims.

But despite the media feeding frenzy surrounding the World Cup and the reams of negative press, Qatar’s tactic of sinking vast sums into the world of sport remains steadfast, and there is no sign of the QSI war chest slamming shut any time soon.

Last month’s news that Qatar is planning to team up with American property and sports tycoon and owner of the Miami Dolphins, Stephen Ross, to bankroll a sensational takeover of Formula One, was just another example of the country’s ambition to compete on all sporting fronts.

It was reported that Ross’ company, RSE Ventures, backed by QSI, is considering investing between $7 billion and $8 billion to buy out a 35.5 per cent stake of the holding company that owns F1, CVC Capital Partners. In addition to this, Bernie Ecclestone’s share of roughly 5 per cent would also be bought.

Of course, an immediate and obvious return on this investment would be the almost inevitable Qatar Grand Prix, which would surely be added to the race calendar if the country became a major shareholder. But more than that, with the combined Qatari wealth and Ross’ knowledge of the American market, the deal could see the sport finally take off in the US, making the money-spinning world of Formula One even more profitable. 

It is no secret that Qatar's vast wealth came as a result of its oil and gas reserves, and it is also no secret that they will eventually run out. And that, ultimately, is what Qatari investment in sport is all about: creating a lasting legacy.

While it might seem like a haphazard, money-no-object approach to investment, trampling over tradition and leaving nothing sacred, behind the big-money bravado, the long-term goal of Qatar’s sporting investment is clear. Life after oil.