Bahrain Buys Stake in Paris F.C., Moving in on P.S.G.’s Turf

For years, soccer in Paris has been the hub of Qatar’s global ambitions. Through its ownership of the city’s biggest team, Paris St.-Germain, Qatar has dreamed big, spent big and won big. In doing so, the country has also used the sport’s popularity to enhance its profile on the world stage.

It may soon have some competition.

On Monday, a second Gulf dynasty entered the city’s soccer scene. Paris F.C., a team that plays in France’s second tier, announced that the Kingdom of Bahrain had bought a minority stake in the club.

The purchase price and the investors’ ambitions appear, for now, to be more modest than Qatari’s cash-soaked efforts, which have turned P.S.G. into a perennial French champion and one of Europe’s most formidable teams. But Paris F.C.’s immediate goal is clear: to reach France’s top division, Ligue 1, in the next three years and to lift its women’s side “as high as possible” in the top tier.

Team officials also left little doubt about Bahrain’s goal: As at P.S.G., the owners hope the soccer team will act as a billboard for the Gulf state, and attract tourists to a nation that is still reeling from the reputational damage it sustained when the country’s monarchy put down pro-democracy uprisings during the height of the Arab Spring.

“I think they saw a fantastic opportunity for investment, and Paris F.C. is a good tool of communication to promote the country,” Fabrice Herrault, the director general of the team, said in an interview. As part of the agreement in which Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund took a 20 percent stake in the club, Paris F.C. will, starting next season, have the words “Explore Bahrain” emblazoned on its uniforms.

The National Communication Centre in Bahrain did not respond to requests for comment, sent through its embassy in the United Kingdom, about the kingdom’s investment in Paris F.C. or about claims by multiple groups and even its citizens that it has engaged in human rights abuses in crushing antigovernment protests.

By investing in soccer, Bahrain is following its Gulf neighbors down a well-trodden path. Qatar has owned P.S.G. since 2011, and the billionaire brother of the ruler of the United Arab Emirates has spent lavishly to assemble one of the best teams in the world at Manchester City in England. A Saudi Arabian prince owns another Premier League club, Sheffield United, and that kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund has bid to buy a third, Newcastle United. Gulf owners also control teams in Spain and Belgium.

Alwadaei was jailed after taking part in antidemocracy protests and fled to the United Kingdom after his release. Bahraini authorities revoked his citizenship in 2015.

Herrault, the Paris F.C. executive, declined to discuss the allegations of human rights abuses.

The soccer investment is not Bahrain’s first foray into international sports. The country has hosted 15 Formula One Grand Prix races, the first in 2004, and has a professional cycling team that competes in the Tour de France. It has also naturalized some elite foreign athletes, notably middle-distance runners from Africa, to compete in its colors at Olympic Games and world championships. Campaign groups like Amnesty International have long argued that these actions were designed to change public opinion of Bahrain.

In Paris F.C., Bahrain has invested in a team with a curious history. The club was born in 1969 before splitting in two three years later, with the other half becoming Paris St.-Germain. Paris F.C. languished in the amateur ranks for years until the owner Pierre Ferracci, a businessman with close links to President Emmanuel Macron of France, oversaw its most recent rise through the professional ranks.

“Our objective is not to win the Champions League,” Herrault said. “It is to be promoted to Ligue 1 and stay there for many, many years and to have one of the best academies in France and in Europe.”

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