Malaga's Qatari Owner to Drop Bookmaker's Patronage on Religious Grounds

Qatar’s Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al Thani plans to replace bookmaker William Hill Plc as jersey sponsor of his newly acquired Malaga soccer team because of his religious beliefs.

Sheikh Abdullah became the only foreigner to own a club in the Spanish first division when he bought Malaga for 10.5 million euros ($13.4 million) last month, taking on 36 million euros of debt, Malaga spokesman Victor Varela said. He is open to talks with other companies who want to sponsor the team, his business associate Abdullah Ghubn said.

“We don’t want to turn everything upside down and cancel contracts but let’s put it this way: I’m a smoker but I don’t smoke in my home because these are the rules and I want to protect my family,” Ghubn said in an interview at Malaga’s training ground.

Gambling is illegal in Qatar and other Islamic countries. Islam’s ban on gambling has pushed Islamic finance institutions to shun investments in companies that have direct link with the industry.

William Hill, the U.K.’s biggest bookmaker by number of outlets, has a contract with Malaga that runs through 2012, according to a company statement in August 2009. William Hill uses the sponsorship to attract online bettors, Sharpe said.

“I’m not aware he’s told us that,” William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe said. “If they come to us with a query about the deal then we’ll be happy to discuss it.”

Kanoute

In 2006, striker Frederic Kanoute, who’s Muslim, told El Pais newspaper he objected to wearing the logo of online casino company 888 Holdings Plc on his Sevilla team jersey. He agreed to wear it for games, although not personal appearances, according to El Pais.

Sheikh Abdullah’s purchase of Malaga from owners including former player Fernando Sanz is more of a “hobby” than an investment, Ghubn said as he stood next to Sheikh Abdullah and translated some of his comments from Arabic into English. Buying the team will increase his international profile and may lead to other business deals, Ghubn added.

Sports can put you “in touch with the whole world,” Ghubn said.

Malaga, which avoided relegation by one place last season, broke even for the fiscal year through June 2009 on 22 million euros of sales, according to a study by Barcelona University professor Jose Maria Gay.

In 2008, Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan bought Manchester City for 210 million pounds ($321 million) to join several other foreign club owners in the English Premier League, the world’s biggest by sales.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Duff in Madrid at aduff4@bloomberg.net. Jason Harris in Madrid at jharris76@bloomberg.net

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