Sunday’s Champions League Final will be the first that is between Europe’s “Old Money” and “New Money.”
The cabal of clubs like Bayern Munich, Juventus, the Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, as well as Manchester United and Liverpool, among others, have fought bitterly to keep clubs like Paris Saint-German (PSG), Chelsea, and Manchester City out of their private dining rooms. PSG is the first of the new ultra-rich clubs funded by the Middle East (Qatar) to reach the Champions League final, and have desperately wanted this trophy to cement their place at Europe’s premier table.
The funny thing is that PSG’s and Munich’s money, at least partially, come from the same place.
PSG are, arguably, the biggest example of “sports-washing,” the practice of Middle Eastern government ownership/sponsorship of European sporting entities in a bid to advertise their countries as tourist destinations while also trying to distract from their abominable human rights practices. PSG are owned by the Qatari government, and it’s long been documented what kind of special hell they’ve put their migrant workers through just to build their World Cup stadiums for 2022. Their record of human rights in general is no less appalling. When you appear on Amnesty International’s and Human Rights Watch’s website, you can be pretty safe in the knowledge your country is run by demons.
PSG have spent gobs of Qatari money to establish themselves as a European power, including utterly demolishing the transfer record to bring Neymar to Paris from Barcelona. Just their likely starting front three on Sunday — Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, and Angel Di Maria—are valued at some $355M by Transfermarket.com. They cost the club $521M to purchase. But you’re not meant to think about how Qatar came about that money or question when it flows to clubs across Europe for their players. Pay no attention to the slaves behind the curtain.
Munich are one of the clubs that pushed hard for UEFA to install Financial Fair Play—you may remember that from such episodes as the complete bamboozling of it by Manchester City and the Court of Arbitration For Sport this summer—to keep clubs like PSG and Man City and Chelsea before them from spending far more cash than they make simply because Middle Easter governments or Russian oligarchs had it lying around. But Munich’s hands are not clean either.
Munich has had a sponsorship deal with Qatar since February of 2018, through the government-owned airline Qatar Airways, and the company has a patch on the sleeve of the Munich jerseys. The club have also held a winter training camp during the Bundesliga’s winter break in Qatar since 2011, which is clearly an advertisement meant for Germans to spend their winter holidays in the country, if only indirectly so. Qatar also owns a portion of Audi, which is a subsidiary of Volkswagen, which also just happens to be a part-owner of Bayern Munich.
Before entering the agreement, Bayern claimed to be unaware of Qatar’s record of human rights violations. Which is strange, considering before entering the deal the club asked only the German government for advice. That’s the kind of thing the American government would simply forget to mention, but the German?
Various fan groups of the club have asked the club to sever ties with Qatar, but those pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Some have even argued that the club has banned some fans from their home games, claiming other reasons but in reality to silence their protests about the club’s relationship with Qatar.
Sunday’s game is tantalizing for soccer fans. It is the team that has been the best in the world all season (Munich) against a dazzling array of talent that might finally be coming together after years of dramatic (and hilarious) failure in Europe (PSG). It might be the rare exciting final, as the occasion tends to get to both teams and you get a tense, tight affair. Both teams can score oodles of goals. It is a chance for Neymar to finally stake his place among Messi and Ronaldo, which he left Messi’s Barcelona to do. It is a chance for Robert Lewandowski to add to his utterly incomprehensible 55 goals in all competitions already and cement his place as the world’s top central forward. Alphonso Davies can become the first Canadian to establish himself as a global star (if he hasn’t already). The storylines and intrigue just go on and on.
But the undercurrent to it all is the shady money and groups that modern football has attached itself to, and how the money makes everyone powerless and honestly unmotivated to do much about it. Migrant workers are still dying, women are still free to be raped by their husbands, the problems continue unabated, but it seems as long as these two clubs keep the star players coming through the doors and trophies into the cases, no one who can do much about it is ever going to.