QATAR USES DU­BI­OUS YOUTH ACADEMY TO CLOSE IN ON DEAL FOR LEEDS UNITED

▶ State in­vest­ment com­pany is favourite to buy club de­spite con­cerns of youth re­cruit­ment and sport scan­dals

The National - News - - NEWS - NICKY HAR­LEY Lon­don

Qatar’s state in­vest­ment com­pany is the favourite to buy English Cham­pi­onship club Leeds United after a part­ner­ship was agreed to be­tween Leeds and so­cial pro­grammes linked to the 2022 World Cup.

The York­shire club is val­ued at more than £90 mil­lion (Dh427m) by its cur­rent owner.

In the past year, two Qatari agen­cies es­tab­lished part­ner­ships with Leeds and its north­ern English neigh­bour, Sh­effield FC.

As­pire Academy, which claims it will de­velop play­ers in the lead-up to the World Cup, last year an­nounced it was link­ing up with Leeds.

The academy played an im­por­tant role in help­ing Qatar to be awarded the chance to host the next World Cup.

But the ini­tia­tive also faced con­cerns of child traf­fick­ing over its search for tal­ent in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, mov­ing tal­ented young­sters to coach­ing cen­tres in Qatar and pay­ing their par­ents.

Con­cerns were raised that Doha would try to nat­u­ralise the best of the boys in the academy so they could play for the Qatari na­tional team.

Doha has also faced in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion over the death toll and treat­ment of for­eign work­ers build­ing sta­di­ums for the World Cup.

In April, Leeds an­nounced it was also form­ing a part­ner­ship with another Qatari academy, called Gen­er­a­tion Amaz­ing.

This month Fifa said Qatar was fund­ing a part­ner­ship to train young foot­ballers at Leeds and non-league side Sh­effield FC, which is recog­nised as the world’s old­est as­so­ci­a­tion foot­ball club.

Pro­gramme di­rec­tor Nasser Al Khori launched the Gen­er­a­tion Amaz­ing ini­tia­tive at Sh­effield’s home ground.

Qatar does not own a Bri­tish club but its in­vest­ment arm bought lead­ing French side Paris Saint-Ger­main in 2011 and Bel­gium team KAS Eu­pen a year later.

Qatar’s broad­caster, the beIN Me­dia Group, which owns beIN

Sports, is run by four of the in­vest­ment fund’s five direc­tors.

It al­ready has a ma­jor foothold in the Bri­tish foot­ball mar­ket after pay­ing £429m in the 2016-2019 round of UK Premier League deals for the rights to broad­cast matches in the Mena re­gion.

Sport news site ESPN said this week that talks be­tween cur­rent Leeds owner An­drea Radriz­zani, Qatar Sports In­vest­ments and lawyer So­phie Jor­dan, were “mov­ing closer” to an agree­ment.

“More talks are planned in the days to come and while sources say there won’t be a full agree­ment soon, they say things are mov­ing in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion,” an ESPN re­port said.

The talks come weeks after Mr

Radriz­zani met Qatari in­vest­ment fund chair­man and PSG pres­i­dent Nasser Al Khe­laifi in Paris to dis­cuss his move for Leeds.

But ne­go­ti­a­tions are be­ing over­shad­owed by a cor­rup­tion scan­dal in­volv­ing the bid­ding for the 2019 IAAF World Cham­pi­onships, which were held in Qatar be­tween Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber.

A French in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the bid­ding process for the 2017 and 2019 track and field world cham­pi­onships brought charges of cor­rup­tion against Yousef Al Obaidly, who is a Qatari in­vest­ment fund board mem­ber and chief ex­ec­u­tive of beIN.

The charges re­late to al­le­ga­tions that a for­mer IAAF of­fi­cial re­ceived two pay­ments to­talling $3.5m (Dh12.8m) from Qatari in­vestors be­fore the vote was held for the 2017 cham­pi­onships.

Qatar lost the vote to Lon­don, but was awarded the event held this year. Mr Al Obaidly claims he is not guilty of any wrong­do­ing.

The in­vest­ment fund is closely tied to beIN and Mr Al Khe­laifi is also chair­man of beIN Me­dia Group.

He is also the pres­i­dent of the Qatar Ten­nis Fed­er­a­tion and vice pres­i­dent of the Asian Ten­nis Fed­er­a­tion for West Asia.

Adel Mustafawi is vice chair­man of Qatar Sports In­vest­ments, while fel­low di­rec­tor Mo­hammed Al Subaie is also a board mem­ber at the Qatar

Squash Board and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of com­mer­cial af­fairs at beIN Me­dia.

The fifth board mem­ber of Qatar Sports In­vest­ments is lawyer So­phie Jor­dan, who is also deputy gen­eral di­rec­tor of beIN Sports in France.

The links be­tween Leeds and

Qatar have deep­ened as a re­sult of the World Cup foot­ball diplo­macy link.

The gen­eral di­rec­tor of the As­pire Academy in Qatar is Ivan Bravo, who was a di­rec­tor at Leeds for more than two and a half years un­til he stepped down last month.

Mr Bravo is also the tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor of the Qatar Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion.

PSG is also af­fil­i­ated with the As­pire Academy.

Foot­ball fi­nance expert Dr Rob Wil­son, a prin­ci­pal lec­turer at Sh­effield Hal­lam Univer­sity, said fo­cus­ing on English clubs was part of a strat­egy by Qatar to gain cred­i­bil­ity with the pub­lic and foot­ball sup­port­ers as it pre­pared to buy its first Bri­tish club.

Getty; AFP

Leeds United com­pete in the English Cham­pi­onship, main im­age, Paris Sain­tGer­main pres­i­dent Nasser Al Khe­laifi, below, has held talks with cur­rent Leeds owner An­drea Radriz­zani in Paris

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