In Oil-Rich Qatar, The Royal Family Reigns Over Sport
Doha. Qatar’s booming sports industry is run by a handful of men and women from the Gulf state’s ruling Al-Thani family, and its success is fueled by money and an eye for recruiting foreign talent.
The crown prince and son of the current emir, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, is the driving force behind the transformation of the sandy and barren country with a population of just over 1.7 million into a world-class hub for major sports events.
Appointed in 2001 to be the head of Qatar’s Olympic Committee, Al-Thani is also a member of the International Olympic Committee and holds the top position on several sports committees and federations in Qatar.
The 31-year-old is chairman of the organizing committee of the 2022 World Cup, the head of the 2020 Olympic Games bid committee and founder and director of Qatar Sports Investment, a company created to finance investment in sports in Qatar and abroad. Last summer the company became the majority shareholder in French football club Paris Saint-Germain.
Al-Thani’s older brother, Jassim, is one of his closest advisers.
His mother, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, heads the Qatar Foundation, which became the first-ever jersey sponsor of FC Barcelona and recently won a five-and-a-half year shirt sponsorship deal worth 171 million euros ($227 million), touted as the largest in football history.
Al-Thani often chooses Western-educated and multilingual managers to lead the sports entities he presides over, including Hassan Al-Thawadi, secretary general of the Supreme Committee of Qatar 2022; businesswoman Noora Al Mannai, chief executive of Qatar’s 2020 Olympic bid committee; and Sheik Saoud Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, QOC secretary general.
To head QSI, Al-Thani chose National Tennis Federation president and Al-Jazeera’s sport chief, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who also later became president of PSG.
Qatar’s Olympic committee serves as the country’s sports hub. The local sports federations depend on it, as do football clubs and national teams. The sports institutions are chaired by locals, but daily operations are left primarily to more qualified expatriates.
“The Qataris are wise enough to realize that they do not have the know-how, so they buy it,” said Djamel Belmadi, head coach of the Lekhwiya football club.
Qatar’s football league, under pressure to perform in light of the country’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup, is coached almost entirely by foreigners, with Brazilian Sebastiao Lazaroni in charge of the national side. Thirteen of the 14 first division teams have foreign coaches, including Frenchmen Belmadi, Alain Perrin, Bruno Metsu and Bernard Simondi.
All of Qatar’s sports federations look beyond the Gulf state’s borders for the expertise that this young nation is lacking within.
At Aspire, the country’s leading sports academy, the Qatari sporting stars of tomorrow are put through their paces amid world-class facilities, but their coaches are all foreign nationals.