The following is a translation from a recent video by French investigative journalist Romain Molina who assesses the Kingdom of Bahrain’s 20% stake acquisition in Ligue 2 club Paris FC.
If I say to you: takeovers and Gulf countries… I’m pretty sure you will instinctively answer me: Saudi Arabia and the sovereign fund that tried to negotiate with Newcastle, the fantasy related to Marseille and why not some other scatter-brained rumours…
But today, we’ll talk about another country, much smaller and more discreet: the kingdom of Bahrain. Recently, L’Équipe reported that some potential Bahraini investment could arrive at Paris FC. The club’s chairman, Pierre Ferracci, denied the fact that he was negotiating with Bahrainis but stated that he was willing to discuss and welcome new investors. This is the famous dream of many French clubs’ presidents: welcoming a minority shareholder. A brief reminder: a minority shareholder is a person who’s willing to invest in a club but who is not going to have any power over decision-making.
PFC have been looking for some time for a minority shareholder willing to acquire 20% or 30% of the club. The president is very ambitious and has this big dream of playing in Ligue 1 one day. But, he does not want to sell. Ferracci has been refuting everything regarding potential links with the Kingdom of Bahrain… Quite odd, as in March, he went there to have a special meeting with one of the King’s sons, Nasser. The latter is the eldest and is in charge of many things in his country, including sports. He’s the family sportsperson, having participated in many triathlons and even played football as a teenager. He is currently the president of the “supreme council for youth and sports” and went to Sandhurst, a very prestigious British military school (where Qatar’s emir Tamim went as well).
So he really has instigated a new sports drive in the country. This was to fight against obesity, a real plague in the Gulf and not only in Bahrain, and promote his country. In an interview with Le Temps (a Swiss newspaper), he said: “my dream has always been to promote Bahrain, despite its small size.”
Just like other countries in the area, Bahrain has been trying to promote itself through sports. Bahrain is a country that does not have the same resources as its neighbours. Indeed, oil has always been the most important source of revenue for the kingdom, but the slicks are slowly running out. Bahrain has recently turned itself towards offshore slicks and are sharing some with Saudi Arabia. What you have to understand is that Bahrain is a very small country and its economy has always depended Saudi Arabia. They are on a sort of drip feed with their powerful neighbours.
Furthermore, little Kingdom has been one of the Saudis’ closest allies over the years. For example, in 2011, when the area was hit by a big revolutionary wave nicknamed “The Arab Spring,” many people gathered on Bahrain’s capital main plaza to protest against the regime and Saudi Arabia sent tanks to stop the marches.
During this period, many footballers joined the protests and one of them, of Bahraini dissent, Hakeem Al-Araibi, was captured and reportedly tortured by the Bahraini government. Quite strangely indeed, as the president of the Asian footballing confederation is actually from… Bahrain. Al-Araibi was understood to have been detained in Thailand and nobody, amongst the footballing authorities, has ever spoken about this.
Anyway, Bahrain has been following Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical positions over the years (criticising Iran and recently Qatar). Also, the country is nicknamed the Saudis’ nightclub, as there is a simple bridge connecting the two countries. This leads many people from Saudi Arabia to go to Bahrain and do things they can’t do in their country. So as you can see, Bahrain wants to be visible on the world’s stage and attract tourists and investors. And so they chose sports to do it. For example, since 2004, they’ve been hosting a yearly Formula 1 Grand Prix. Also, they invested in several sports dear to Nasser’s heart (one of the king’s sons), such as triathlon and cycling teams, competing in the biggest world competitions.
Eventually, they got interested in football. It was one of Nasser’s advisors (a Frenchman by the way) who was in charge of setting up the meeting between the prince (Nasser) and PFC’s owner, Ferracci in March.
In an article in the Bahraini press, it was stated that Ferracci (whose name they misspelled) is a “special advisor of the French Republic’s president Emmanuel Macron.” I did my research and well, no one at the LFP (Ligue de Football Professionnel) and the FFF (Fédération Française de Football) told me anything about this. Nobody is reportedly involved in this. So there are two options: either Ferracci went to Bahrain only for his club’s interest, either he is working specifically in the name of the French government, or the latter is a cover for the former, owing to his close relationship with Macron. Ferracci’s son, Marc, is an economist and was a witness at Emmanuel Macron’s wedding, with Macron also having been at Marc’s wedding. Marc was Macron’s Chief of Staff when the politician was the Minister of Economy under François Hollande.
On Bahrain’s side, all they want is to earn visibility using sports in order to develop tourism and banking. Also, they don’t want to splash the cash, so don’t expect millions of dollars at PFC. They want their investments to be limited and reasonable. To prove this, look what they did in December: through a society named “Infinity”, they took over the Spanish team of Cordoba for €3m. This mythical team used to play in La Liga but fell to the “Segunda B” (3rd division).
So to sum it up: Bahrain’s onslaught in the footballing world is only just beginning. They’ve already started creating some links, as you’ve just seen, with Spain and are looking to create some new with France and use football as a diplomacy tool. Their investments in France will be limited, unless they change strategy. Also, if you are asking yourself “why France? Why Paris?” Well that’s simple, Paris FC’s good fortune is to have the word “Paris” in their name. The word “Paris” in itself is a strong selling point, and France are the current world champions, which is something they are fascinated about.