Neymar, the Brazilian soccer sensation, smashed the world transfer record with a whopping €222 million move to Paris Saint Germain(PSG). PSG’s patron, mega-rich Qatar, did not bat an eye at the cost for the superstar.
Qatar is a little peninsula boasting only 280,000 citizens, yet amassed a sovereign wealth fund of $170 billion from oil and gas revenue in 2015. Qatar has heavily invested in world soccer as a nation building strategy.
It began in 2010 with a mega advertising deal worth €150m putting Qatar Airways on FC Barcelona’s jerseys, making Lionel Messi a walking billboard for an oil-rich gulf peninsula.
Then came the kicker. In 2012, Qatar beat out the United States for the rights to hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Ex-FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, twisted a web of corruption to elect the unprepared and unbearably hot, yet wealthy country. While Swiss criminal investigations exposed dozens of dirty deals, Qatar has been allowed to maintain the integrity of its bid. Not to mention the blistering rate of immigrants dying each day in the 120 degree construction sites.
Next, the Qatari state, via the fund Qatar Sports Investments, purchased a majority stake in PSG in 2012. This is not just some team; it is the sporting jewel of Paris, amongst the most iconic cities in the world. The Qataris have poured money into the side, swelling their ranks with the world’s most elite names: acquiring Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Angel Di Maria, and Edison Cavani for a combined €148.5 million making PSG one of the most elite sides in Europe and an instrument of soft power.
Now, the Neymar transfer has shattered all we know about financial fair play in sports. But more importantly, this purchase comes at a volatile time for Qatar.
In the past two months, Doha’s (Qatari capital) relations hit an all-time low with its gulf neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia. Head of state, Sheikh Tamim issued statements that favored the Saudi’s archrival, Iran, setting off alarms in Riyadh. Soon, Saudi security forces sealed the land border with Qatar. Regional companies Emirates Airlines, Fly Dubai, Gulf Air, Etihad cancelled flights to Doha. UAE and Saudi Arabia raised an airspace blockade, landing Qatar Airways and the Doha financial machine in deep economic trouble.
With an ongoing crisis, how can Qatar afford to field unthinkable amounts money on the soccer market? The blockbuster purchase of Neymar is more than twice the previous record cost of Paul Pogba last summer.
First off, the Qataris are not fazed by the ongoing crisis. Turkey sent troops and Iran sent food and gave Qatar unrestricted access to its airspace. Doha has flown in cows from Germany and signed two massive military deals – a $12 and $6 billion deals with the United States and Italy respectively.
While Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States flex their muscles, they are painfully aware of the 11,000 United States military personnel stationed in Qatar playing a key role in Trump’s war with ISIS. Riyadh signed an arms deal worth $110 billion earlier this year with President Trump. The blockades are in no position to act against the United States, and thus Qatar.
The highly publicized Neymar swoop is none other than an act of defiance from the penisular nation.
But ironically, when Neymar pulls on the PSG shirt for the first time in front of millions of fans worldwide, “Fly Emirates,” one of the blockade country’s mega-companies, will be written across his chest.