Qatar’s investment in French giants Paris Saint-Germain, and its use of the club as a central tool for the gas-rich emirate’s soft power diplomacy over the past decade, is unlikely to change after next year’s World Cup, experts predict.
What is Qatar going to do after the tournament? Will it pour money into the club on the same scale, having spent over a billion euros since the 2011 takeover by Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), albeit without winning the Champions League, European football’s holy grail?
This question is quietly mulled by the ranks of French football observers, and in particular PSG supporters, who have seen Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi move to the French capital.
‘Tool of seduction worldwide’
In football terms, the sums are huge. Yet it appears almost irrelevant to gas-rich Qatar.
“I think the World Cup is just one part, it’s already a triumph itself for Qatar to have obtained it. But that shouldn’t in any way change their policy,” believes Raphael Le Magoariec, a PhD researcher in geopolitics specialised in the Gulf countries.
Predicting the future and diplomatic strategy of a country is a perilous exercise, experts questioned by AFP warn.
The risks are manifold, and several factors can intervene to change the perspective at any given moment. But the tidal wave ridden by the emirate for nearly 30 years seems well anchored to Qatar’s strategy.
Coined in the late 1980s, the term “soft power” was popularized by the American political scientist Joseph Nye, co-founder of the international relations theory of neoliberalism, who served in both the Carter and Clinton administrations.
It refers to the power of influence, the persuasion of others through appeal and attraction, without coercive means.
“Shortly after the invasion of Kuwait by the United States, Qatar asked itself the question, ‘Who can prevent them from such an attack?’ It’s not its army, nor its oil tankers, nor its technology. It’s Western public opinion,” said geopolitics expert Marc Lavergne, the director of research at the French Nations Centre for Scientific Research and the University of Tours.
“Qatar has developed a whole set of pillars that can be linked to soft power, such as art and a global sports policy in which Paris Saint-Germain is a tool of seduction worldwide. It’s the construction of a smooth image, exotic, idealised. Qatar is not going to stop developing this strategy tomorrow,” he added.
‘Best showcase for emirate’
It’s a policy which has put Qatar on the world map from a geopolitical view.
“Close to 15 years ago Qatar did not exist in public opinion,” says Lavergne. “Paris Saint-Germain is central to this policy. With the club they reach the whole world.”
The refusal to sell French World Cup-winning forward Mbappe last summer, despite an offer of 180 million euros from Real Madrid, was perceived by some as financial folly.
“But the economists asked about it in France don’t have Qatar’s frame of reference,” Le Magoariec said.
“You have to compare these investments to those of a defence ministry.”
The money has helped the club win seven French league championships in the past decade and PSG reached the final of the 2020 Champions League. Europe’s showpiece for club sides.
Other analysts said next year’s World Cup matters little in view of the success so far of the emirate’s strategy.
“Since the beginning and still today, PSG constitutes in my mind a major investment for the country. For some, it’s the best showcase for the emirate,” says Carole Gomez, senior research fellow in sport and geopolitics at IRIS, a French think tank on geopolitical and strategic issues.
“I don’t believe investment will be withdrawn the day after the World Cup. For one, because the geopolitical and economic reasons that pushed Doha to invest in sport are still there.
“It’s still a question of asserting its individuality in front of its neighbours, notably Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but equally to diversify its economic investments in order to think about the post-gas era.”
In addition, the ties between Qatar and France stretch well beyond the realms of this sporting connection.
“Qatar is a strategic ally of France, and has been for years,” underlined Lavergne.
An alliance in which the football club is just one element, but a sensitive one.
“Everything that affects Paris Saint-Germain is extremely sensitive, it’s in the hands of the emir. It’s eminently strategic,” Le Magoariec added.