Georgia's Ivanishvili pledges AED 37m for team sparkling at Euros


The founder of Georgia's ruling party, billionaire former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, said he would donate AED 36.7 million ($10.7 million) to the national football team after they upset Portugal to qualify for the Euro 2024 last 16.

In a statement, his Georgian Dream party said Ivanishvili congratulated the team and pledged the money from his charitable foundation in recognition of what he called a "historic and dream victory".

Ivanishvili, who is worth AED 18 billion ($4.9 billion), pledged a further AED 41 million ($11.2 million) if Georgia beat Spain in the last 16 on Sunday.

Born in Georgia, Ivanishvili made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s, before returning home and founding Georgian Dream in 2011. He won elections in 2012, and served as prime minister for one year, before handing over to a chosen successor.

He is widely believed to exert influence over the ruling party, of which he is the honorary chairman.

Though Georgian Dream says it is pro-Western and supports joining the European Union and military alliance NATO, both Georgian and Western critics have accused it of authoritarian and pro-Russian tendencies.

In April, the reclusive Ivanishvili gave a rare and harshly anti-Western speech in support of a law on "foreign agents" which sparked some of the biggest protests seen in Georgia since independence from Moscow in 1991.

The billionaire said a shadowy cabal had seized control of Western countries, and was seeking to drag Georgia into a conflict with neighbouring Russia.

At the time, several members of the national football team spoke out against the government, supporting the protests against the law, which parliament enacted in June.

Euphoria at Wednesday's victory masked the latest developments in Georgia's bitterly polarised politics.

In parliament on Thursday, ruling party lawmakers, many wearing the national side's shirts, sang a popular Georgian footballing anthem, opening a session at which they passed a "family values" bill introducing sweeping curbs on LGBT rights.

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