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Qatar’s Nasser al-Khelaifi named most influential person in football

BeIN Sports chairman tops France Football magazine's list of 50, beating Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
Nasser al-Khelaifi is the chairman of BeIN Media Group and the president of Paris Saint-Germain football club (AFP)

Qatari businessman Nasser al-Khelaifi has topped a list of the 50 most influential people in football by a major sports magazine. 

France Football ranked Khelaifi, who is the chairman of BeIN Media Group and the president of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) football club, above Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo and FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who came second and third respectively. Others in the top ten included Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and World Cup-winning Megan Rapinoe, captain of the US women's team. 

“It’s a huge privilege, and surprise, to be nominated alongside such esteemed company,” Khelaifi told the magazine. 

“I don’t think about things in terms of influence, we try and earn people’s respect in the same way that we have always respected others. To earn this respect you need years of hard work by many people along with a very clear vision.”

Khelaifi is the chairman of Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), a subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund founded and run by the country’s ruling al-Thani family. He became the president of PSG after QSI bought a majority stake in the French team in 2011.

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QSI have reportedly invested over $1bn in PSG since the takeover. 

“As I always say, resources help, but it’s not the most important. You need to know how to use whatever resources you have in the most beneficial way. Resources in themselves cannot buy you passion, vision or success,” Khelaifi said.

The 46-year-old is currently being investigated by Swiss prosecutors in connection with a bribery investigation into World Cup television rights, which is set to go to trial in September. 

Khelaifi is accused of giving “undue advantages” to former FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke, in an attempt to influence the award of media rights for various World Cup and FIFA Confederations Cup tournaments between 2018 and 2030.

He allegedly gave Valcke exclusive right to use a villa in Sardinia without having to pay rent estimated to be between €900,000 and €1.8m.

“With responsibility comes scrutiny and often criticism, which I have no problem with,” Khelaifi told France Football. “In the modern media world that’s the price you have to pay, but I hope that with this rating I will not get more of it.”

The BeIN Sports chief was not the only figure from the Middle East to make the top 50 list. 

Manchester City owner and Abu Dhabi royal Sheikh Mansour also featured, along with Asian Football Confederation president and Bahraini royal Salman al-Khalifa, Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah, and Qatar’s head of deliverance and legacy for the 2022 World Cup, Hassan al-Thawadi. 

Saudi Arabia is seeking to join its Gulf neighbours among football’s most influential, with the kingdom's Public Investment Fund, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, currently launching a bid to take over English Premier League (EPL) club Newcastle United. 

BeIN Sports, a key broadcaster of the EPL, has called on the takeover to be investigated. It accuses the Saudi government of masterminding the pirate broadcast of BeIN output as part of a diplomatic dispute between Doha and Riyadh. Saudi Arabia denies the claims.