giving back?

Morocco: Why sports stars like Ronaldo, Badr Hari and Teddy Riner are investing in the Kingdom

By Rym Bousmid

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Posted on June 21, 2023 09:29

Kickboxing: Badr Hari and Alistair Overeem press conference © 2022-06-28 12:15:47 UTRECHT – Badri Hari during the press conference leading up to the fight of GLORY: COLLISION 4 against Alistair Overeem. ANP RAMON VAN FLYMEN netherlands out – belgium out (Photo by Ramon van Flymen / ANP MAG / ANP via AFP)
2022-06-28 12:15:47 UTRECHT – Badri Hari during the press conference leading up to the fight of GLORY: COLLISION 4 against Alistair Overeem. ANP RAMON VAN FLYMEN netherlands out – belgium out (Photo by Ramon van Flymen / ANP MAG / ANP via AFP)

Moroccan and international sports people are choosing to do business in Morocco – becoming true ambassadors abroad.

A majestic mashrabiya entrance façade, a 15,300m2 surface area spread over three levels, and a 360° rooftop planted with greenery, lie in the heart of M Avenue, a new cosmopolitan hub in Marrakech.

It is the work of a French architect, Didier Lefort, for Cristiano Ronaldo’s Pestana CR7 hotel, in partnership with the Portuguese hotel group owned by Dionisio Pestana. The hotel, which costs Dhs300m ($81.6m), has 174 rooms, two restaurants, one business centre, one spa with fitness room, and one outdoor swimming pool with a waterfall.

Badr Hari is back

A former close friend of the football star, Moroccan-born Dutch kickboxer Badr Hari has also chosen to invest in the Kingdom. Last November, the man who ended his sporting career in October 2021 announced, via his Instagram account, the launch of a network of gyms called ‘Punch’ in Morocco.

Over the next three years, the former heavyweight plans to open a few dozen gyms. Last May, the fighter’s face appeared on several giant billboards in the economic capital, with this unequivocal message: ‘I’m back’.

“Sport has given me everything in my life, and now it’s time to give back to the sporting community in our beloved country,” he said in his announcement post. Committed to making sport more accessible, Badr Hari says he wants to “create gyms that meet the best international standards while offering affordable membership fees for all”, with the aim for his project to have “a strong social impact throughout the country”.

Subscriptions cost Dhs2,990 for the Fitness Pass and Dhs3,990 for the Total Pass.

Teddy Riner, the black belt of business

Another leading figure in combat sports, France’s Teddy Riner, an 11-time world judo champion who has his own offices at the Palais, is also a keen investor. In fact, back in 2018, the judoka owned, in equal shares with Hugo Peszynski (himself a former competitive judo player), a Casablanca-based company providing marketing services in the sports sector and the organisation of sports events. In the same year, the press also mentioned the Teddy Riner Ecological Foundation for Clean Africa (TR2A), based in Marrakech.

Although he seems to have withdrawn from these two projects, Riner has since increased his investments in real estate, restaurants, hotels and logistics in Morocco. In May 2022, he launched the construction of a top-of-the-range housing project, 134 Square, designed by architect Rachid El Andaloussi, in Dar Bouazza, south of Casablanca, with the help of a loan from Bank of Africa worth around Dhs400m, as revealed in May 2022 by the information website Le Desk.

In the same seaside suburb, the sportsman has also launched a beauty centre and two restaurants, ‘Les routes de Dar Bouazza’, in association with CapHôtel, part of the French group Deret, owner of the Accor brand (Mercure, Novotel, Ibis Style, Ibis Budget), reported the same source. In Dakhla, within the same year, Riner was laying the foundation, this time on his own, for a tourist complex and storage space project via a company set up in April 2022, TR Dakhla Takhzine.

The Azaitar trio

Another example is that of the controversial Azaitar brothers, Germans of Moroccan origin: the twins Omar and Abu Bakr, and their younger brother Ottman. Abu Bakr and Ottman are decorated champion MMA fighters, while Omar is their manager and trainer, and for several months now their alleged closeness to the Palais has been the subject of fascination and discourse, particularly in the foreign press.

In July 2019, Ottman will launch a restaurant of the German chain 3h’s Burger & Chicken in Tangier. Three years later, in March 2022, the Azaitar brothers opened a fast-food outlet, Royal Burger, in the Salé marina; a doughnut shop, Royal Donuts; and a candy-pink café/chicha concept called Chérie Chéri. In turn, 3h’s in Detroit was christened Royal Burger.

According to Le Desk, the trio also owns a property development company, Antego Maroc, in Tangiers. In March 2021, the youngest, Ottman, even tried to invest in therapeutic cannabis by registering the name Phar-Maroc, as well as a logo featuring the symbol of Hygie’s cup on a cannabis leaf in the colours of the Moroccan flag. Three months later, however, the Moroccan Industrial and Commercial Property Office (Ompic) rejected his application on the grounds that it “imitates…official emblems of the Kingdom”, in accordance with article 135 of the law on the protection of industrial property.

Older generation

There’s nothing new about past or present sportspersons investing in Morocco. What has changed in recent years is the profile of these investors: they may be internationally-renowned stars who associate their names with businesses in Morocco, or prominent bi-national athletes who have returned to invest in their country of origin. Their projects are often high-profile, even prestigious.

However, until the early 2000s, “sports persons who turned to entrepreneurship in Morocco did so to ensure financial security after retirement, generally around the age of 37”, says Younes El Hassani, a specialist in professional retraining in sport.

“Some did it to continue smoothing out their income, maintaining the same lifestyle as when they were sportsmen and women, while others wanted to improve it, sometimes at the risk of breaking their backs.”

Hassani explains that many of the players in the Moroccan national football team of the ‘1986 generation’ made this choice, as both King Hassan II and Mohammed VI paid particular attention to sportspersons, especially as a guarantee of international visibility. Baddou Zaki and Aziz Bouderbala, for example, “would have benefited from facilities and agreements to launch their projects”, he says.

While Hicham El Guerrouj, a four-time 1500m world champion and two-time Olympic champion, has invested in two farms covering several dozen hectares in Berkane, the majority of these sportspersons have invested – more or less successfully:

  • in real estate, such as former Atlas Lions Salaheddine Bassir and Mustapha El Haddaoui,
  • in catering, such as Noureddine Naybet,
  • or have opened private sports schools or academies, such as Mehdi Krimo and Hicham Arazi.
  • One of the few to have gone into the sports equipment business – albeit briefly – was Olympic athlete Saïd Aouita.

In general, few of these people have made any real money after their sporting careers concluded.

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