Sunday, February 25, 2024

Qatar Royal Family Continues ‘Sportwashing’ Campaign to Improve Image

NewsQatar Royal Family Continues ‘Sportwashing’ Campaign to Improve Image

In an attempt to help Qatar build on the publicity it enjoyed from hosting the 2022 FIFA world cup, a prominent member of that country’s royal family is trying to purchase one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world. Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB) and former crown prince of Qatar, has put in a bid for English Premier League powerhouse Manchester United Football Club, currently owned by the American Glazer family. While the Glazer family has reportedly turned down an offer of $6.31 billion from Sheikh Jassim, reports indicate he might be willing to sell for more than $12 billion.

If the deal goes through, it will help a state-sponsor of Islamic terrorism ingratiate itself with soccer fans in Western democracies, says Ghanem Nuseibeh, a top expert on Qatar’s regime and the founder of the London-based consultancy Cornerstone Global Associate.

“Qatar has used sports as a way to promote its image whilst at the same time continuing to abuse human rights at home and promote terrorism overseas,” Nuseibeh told Focus on Western Islamism (FWI). He added that Westerners should not be fooled into thinking the intended purchase represents an effort by the Qatari royal family to modernize its political system.

Qatar “has a track record of breaking promises of reforms, as was so blatantly evident during its hosting of the World Cup,” he said. “Manchester United risks being used as another tool to sportwash Qatar’s continued disregard of international law and the FIFA ethics code.”

The term “sportwashing” has gained traction over the years to describe the efforts by dictatorships to purchase world-class sports teams and host sporting events to distract public opinion from their regimes’ totalitarian ideologies and oppressive practices.

The practice has a long history. To legitimatize the fascism of their regimes, Benito Mussolini’s Italy hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1934 and Adolf Hitler’s Germany staged the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Qatar’s Islamist monarchy is following the same playbook, it appears.

Sheikh Jassim is the son of Qatar’s former prime minister and foreign minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, who is known by his initials HBJ. The sports media has largely ignored Sheikh Jassim’s role as chairman of the Qatar Islamic Bank, an entity embroiled in allegations that it funds Syrian-based jihadi terrorist organizations.

Matthew Schrier, an American photojournalist who was kidnapped and severely tortured by the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in Syria, sued the Qatar Islamic Bank in 2020 for its alleged role in terror finance. The Qatari regime and its scandal-plagued financial system has faced intense criticism from the U.S. Congress and experts on terror finance for its role in sending funds to both Sunni and Shiite terrorists organizations across the Middle East.

Sheikh Jassim, Qatar’s embassies in Washington D.C. and London, and the Qatar Islamic Bank did not respond to FWI press queries.

HBJ, who is known as “the man who bought London,” is considering a sale of his luxury homes in London’s toniest neighborhoods for roughly $470 million to aid his son in the $7.55 billion bid for Manchester United.

HBJ is reportedly attempting to establish a permanent residence in Bel Air, prompting former Mayor John A. Mirisch to initiate an investigation into antisemitic comments he made in January 2022. The statements were documented by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). According to MEMRI, HBJ told Kuwaiti media outlet Al Qabas that if oil was sold by Jews, “It would be the most expensive thing in the world.”

Mirisch said, “Mr. bin Jassim’s statement is vile and yet another manifestation of the virus of Jew-hatred, something we in Beverly Hills, one of the few Jewish-majority cities outside Israel, have always condemned in the strongest of terms.”

He added, “I intend to ask the city council to look into the MEMRI report as well as Mr. bin Jassim’s remarks and to pass a resolution condemning any and all expressions of Jew-hatred, as well as any violations of human rights.

“Obviously, local government has nothing to do with issuing visas, but from my perspective, violent antisemites and violators of human rights should not be welcome in our city or country,” Mirisch said.

In the same interview with outlet Al Qabas, HBJ, who is a registered diplomat in the United Kingdom, boasted that Qatar’s regime had unnamed journalists in unnamed countries “on our payroll,” and that “some of them have become MPs now.” Qatar’s influence operations were the topic of a 2017 U.S. congressional hearing titled “Assessing the U.S.-Qatar Relationship,” where witnesses testified about Qatar’s financing and promotion of terrorism during HBJ’s tenure and post-HBJ.

The controversy HBJ faces in California could hinder his family’s efforts to purchase Manchester United. Yigal Carmon, the founder and president of MEMRI, wrote Manchester United that “I wish to express my deep concerns about the bin Jassim family and their efforts to buy Manchester United to gain credibility and legitimacy on the public stage, despite HBJ’s 21 years of support and enabling of terrorist organizations.”

Carmon sent Manchester United four reports outlining Qatar’s role in protecting and promoting terrorists, including Doha’s financing of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, the Islamic State, Hezbollah, and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

A Manchester United representative responded to Carmon, declaring, “we are sorry to hear about your disappointment in relation to this. Although we are unable to comment on this or surrounding media speculation we have formally documented your concerns and your feedback will be passed to the relevant team.”

The controversy could put the Glazer family on the spot. In 2021, fans who owned a 75 percent stake in the Bayern Munich soccer team in Germany forced the club to pull the plug on its business partnership with Qatar in June 2022 in protest of its human rights abuses.

A second suitor, the British billionaire Sir James Arthur Ratcliffe, is also trying to buy Manchester United. If Ratcliffe prevails in the bidding war, English soccer will not be contaminated by Qatar’s Muslim Brotherhood ideology.

FWI sent press queries to Manchester United seeking comments about Sheikh Jassim and the allegations of terror financing by the Qatar Islamic Bank, HBJ, and Qatar’s regime. HBJ refused to answer press queries.

Marc Eichinger, a former French intelligence agent, told FWI that Westerners need to be on guard against Qatar’s efforts to “sportwash” its reputation.

“Qatar uses supporters’ groups and its investments in football to spread its unfortunate influence,” he said. “It’s not compatible with what British or French football fans want.”

Benjamin Weinthal is a Ginsburg/Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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