Why Qatar Might End Up Paying the Bills for David Beckham's Miami MLS Team

Separating fact from fancy in the David Beckham MLS story is about as easy as keeping Zlatan off the score sheet. Even though Beckham has secured MLS approval for a privately built stadium in Overtown, his group still has yet to buy all the land, nail down construction plans, or – most important – line up the investors to pay for everything. Meanwhile, British tabloids and the international soccer press latch onto every anonymous Becks rumor ginned up on Twitter. 

So take any tidbit of so-called news about Beckham's plans with a World Cup-size grain of salt. But that being said, signs point toward Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) as the most likely big-money group to back Miami's top-tier pro soccer club.

A source close to Beckham's crew tells New Times that the Qataris are deep in serious negotiations with Beckham's group, although they're just one of several potential partners (including other big-name possibilities, as the Miami Herald noted earlier this week, such as Chelsea's Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich). A deal with QSI might just come through by the end of the month, the source suggested. 

If the Qataris do sign on, they'd be a dynamic partner for Miami, boasting ownership of France's top club and crazy global marketing potential. But they'd also represent a serious PR risk – QSI is closely tied to Qatar's deeply criticized World Cup bid, which has been blasted for everything from corruption and bribery to slavery and deadly working conditions

So why would Beckham be likely to partner with the Qataris? Well, his connections already run deep with the oil-rich monarchy. 

When he was still playing, the Qataris brought Beckham to play for their French team, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). He's maintained close ties with the monarchy ever since, regularly showing up in Qatar for sporting events.

There are also clear reasons why the Qataris would want to get a foothold in Miami. They already own the BeIn Sports television network, which is based in Miami and employs several hundred people here, and they would presumably love a U.S franchise to market PSG and their other soccer interests to American fans.

MLS, meanwhile, has eagerly signed on to house American outposts of major European clubs, such as NYCFC, which started play last year in virtually the same kits as its parent club, Manchester City. Imagine a Miami franchise with a direct line to one of the best teams in Europe – maybe even an aging Zlatan, PSG's biggest star, finishing his career in Overtown.

And it's worth reiterating that Beckham absolutely needs a partner with Middle Eastern oil levels of cash. At minimum, getting his Miami team off the ground will cost $300 million; the stadium buildout alone will likely run north of $250 million, and then a full soccer operation and player salaries have to be paid.

So Miami PSG would be a win-win all around, right? Well, there would be a dark side to the partnership.

Qatar is set to host the 2022 World Cup. But that bid was almost certainly won through widespread bribery and graft. And even worse, Qatar has been accused of gross human rights abuses and outright slavery while building stadiums for the global contest. More than a thousand workers have died so far, according to some reports.     

That has already put Beckham himself into an uncomfortable position with his Qatari friends. Though he has described the corruption allegations as "disgusting," he has also backed Qatar to hang onto its World Cup, telling journalists: "Whether it's corrupt or not, those countries have been chosen. People need to get behind that."
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink