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
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.
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