Youngkin’s Fumbled Arena Plan Shines Light on Sportswashing

In December of last year, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) surprised all of the Commonwealth with a “half-baked” scheme to bring the Capitals and Wizards, owned by his long-time friend and co-investor, billionaire Ted Leonsis, across the Potomac River and into Virginia. The sweetheart deal included a record-setting $1.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies.    

Between the bogus economic analyses, laughable traffic mitigation plans, and a plethora of political mistakes, the glaring threat to American professional sports was overlooked – the influence foreign money plays in our politics and our fandoms. 

Bloomberg recently reported on the apparent conflicts of interest between Youngkin, Leonsis, and two foreign sovereign wealth funds from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. 

Gov. Youngkin, while actively supporting the Potomac Yard #MonumentalDisaster to attract Monumental Sports to Northern Virginia, apparently failed to disclose his shared interest with Leonsis and the Saudis in the Professional Fighters League (PFL), a rapidly growing mixed martial arts league.

Launched in 2018, PFL quickly gained value, reaching $500 million in just four years, and Saudi Arabia’s $100 million investment is no small reason why. Currently, the PFL is the second-largest MMA league in the US, following the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and last year, the PFL acquired another league, Bellator MMA. 

While the governor’s office hasn’t disclosed the exact size of Youngkin’s stake in the PFL, his 2021 financial records indicate that it’s worth more than the $250,000 threshold for assets held in a blind trust. A spokesperson for the governor says that Youngkin “has no financial holdings of any sort that would benefit from this project.”

Is that true?  Are there any financial ties between Youngkin and Leonsis that Virginia taxpayers should know about before forking over $1.4 billion dollars to a couple of rich dudes?    

What about financial benefits that might flow to the Youngkin-Leonsis owned PFL?  It seems highly unlikely that a new $2 billion arena wouldn’t host PFL fights. The Virginia legislature should ask the Governor to answer these questions, or at the very least disclose what’s in his blind trust. 

What the Bloomberg article doesn’t dig into is Qatar’s role in all of this. Qatar owns 5% of Monumental Sports. They acquired this stake in June – about the same time as negotiations between the Governor and Leonsis began. 

What did the Qataris know that the Governor’s voters didn’t? How involved were the Qataris in negotiations?

Sportswashing is an ever growing problem in American sports, and will continue to linger over deals like this until lawmakers start asking the right kinds of questions. Virginia lawmakers, like Chairwoman Louise Lucas, who has control over this bill in the Virginia Senate, have this opportunity now, and should start investigating the Governor, Ted Leonsis, and all the foreign money pouring into the Commonwealth. 

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  • Sports Fans Coalition
    published this page in Blog 2024-02-22 14:20:39 -0500