Why big business can’t get enough of the World Cup, the scandal and all

At home, many of these companies are quick to promote their environmental, social and governance or ESG credentials and market their commitment to causes like LGBTQ rights. But even at a time when a Qatari company misstep can be amplified on social media, the tournament shows companies are willing to risk a backlash they’re betting will be forgiven (or forgotten). , as long as the world tunes in the potential payoff is enormous. Football is the most popular sport in the world and FIFA expects five billion people to watch the tournament (think Super Bowl viewership of around 50). FIFA expects the event to gross around $4.7 billion. The organization has seemingly shrugged off the scandal and is awash with money and all the power that comes with it.

Gianni Infantino, 52, a suave Swiss football manager, took office in 2016, vowing to root out corruption and restore FIFA’s tarnished image. Just before the start of the tournament, he vigorously defended the decision to award the World Cup to Qatar, saying his organization had been changed. “Money just doesn’t disappear in FIFA anymore,” he said. “Money goes where it needs to go and it goes into football development.” (Mr Blatter, meanwhile, claims Qatar should not have won. “It’s too small a country,” he told a Swiss newspaper group.)

Qatar has spent an estimated US$200 billion building high-speed rails, roads and stadiums for the World Cup. That’s more than 15 times what Russia spent hosting the 2018 tournament. Qatar, which sits on one of the world’s largest natural gas fields, earned about $32.2 billion from oil and gas revenues in the first half of 2022, a war-related increase of 67 percent from the same period last year, according to government data.

Qatar’s arrival on sport’s biggest stage goes well beyond wooing FIFA. “The World Cup changes everything – it’s great for us,” Nasser al-Khelaifi, head of Qatar Sports Investments, told me in 2013. “It’s a transformative tool.”

A year after winning the right to host the tournament, Qatar acquired Paris St-Germain, a drained, underperforming professional club in the French capital, and turned them into a global powerhouse. With Mr al-Khelaifi as President, PSG have bought sporting success, built a brand and now dominate the domestic league. Qatar has spent an estimated $1.45 billion to bring in a slew of superstar players to the club, including Argentinian Lionel Messi, Brazilian Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, the 23-year-old French forward who has signed a new deal has, which is reportedly expected to bring him $250 million over the next three years.

Mr Jaidah, the Qatari chief executive, has denied accusations that the World Cup bought Doha its way into global sport, saying he believes the attacks on human rights have backfired and have united the country. For Westerners, he says, “It feels kind of lewd, how why do we earn this wealth and why do we keep it? Qataris think, ‘It’s our land, our wealth.’”

Meanwhile, the money machine FIFA is winning on and off the pitch. Infantino estimates billions will tune in to the December 18 finale, an unmissable marketing opportunity.

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