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MENAFN - AFP - 03/01/2014

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(MENAFN - AFP) Increasingly under the international spotlight after earning the right to host the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is leaving no stone unturned in its quest to become a sporting super-power.

The oil and gas-rich Arab emirate has set itself lofty goals for such a tiny country.

With a population of around 2 million people, of which only 300,000 are Qatari nationals, outnumbered approximately six-to-one by foreign workers, Qatar certainly does not have the kind of wide pool from which to pick and choose talent that countries such as China or the US enjoy.

Yet just as Qatar has proved keen to recruit foreign nationals to boost its sporting teams, so too has the emirate scouted the world to find the best people in a raft of pursuits outside the direct sporting sphere but related to it that could help enhance its competitive ambitions.

Whether doctors, coaches, strategists or specialists in any number of walks of life, Qatar has attracted them to the blazing heat of the desert to take part in the most ambitious of sporting projects.

One such project is Aspetar, a clinic for top-level sportsmen.

According to its director of the National Programme of Sports Medicine, Hakim Chalabi, clubs such as Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain, as well as the Algerian national team, send their footballers to be treated at the clinic.

"This is the Silicon Valley of sports medicine," said the Frenchman, a former doctor at both Paris Saint-Germain football club and Stade Francais rugby club.

"When you want to move towards excellence you have to try to find the best wherever you can.

"Their strategy has been defined here, now they need ... the human resources.

"And we're going to look for them where they are the best, in Qatar or elsewhere."

According to Al-Ahly's Iranian international footballer Ferydoon Zandi, the clinic has also attracted top sportsmen from the United States.

"Many athletes come from abroad for treatment because they know that the infrastructure and physiotherapy is good," he said.

"The other day, Shaquille O'Neal was in front of me. He wanted to see the equipment."

Nearby, the anti-doping laboratory of Doha is aiming to earn World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) accreditation within a year and become a reference point within the Gulf area.

"We have managers who never accept being second best," Dr. Mohammed Alsayrafi, the centre's head, told AFP.

"Every time I'm given a project I assume that if I can't be number one, then I shouldn't exist.

"More than 150 million (110 million euros) has been invested in machines and the building, but the human investment has no price."

Yet in a country where the majority of the population consists of foreign male labourers and where the scorching hot summer climate is not conducive to taking part in competitive sport, unearthing gems from within the tiny community of nationals is not easy.

One such who bucked the trend is high-jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim, who won bronze at the London Olympics in 2012 and added World Championship silver in Moscow in August.

And unlike previous Qatari athletes who excelled, such as Saif Saaeed Shahin -- a Kenyan middle distance runner born as Stephen Cherono who won two world 3,000m steeplechase titles after defecting to Qatar, allegedly in return for 1 million -- Barshim was born in Doha and came up through the country's acclaimed Aspire sports academy.

It is run by Spaniard Ivan Bravo, a former strategic manager at Real Madrid, who believes Qatar could change the whole sporting landscape of the Gulf region.

"I see a genuine conviction about what sport could bring to this country," he said.

"I don't think the society is used to just how sport can become imbedded in culture as in Europe.

"That's what this country is banking on.

"(But) you also need certain icons that everyone is looking for."

By investing heavily in infrastructure, training facilities, coaching and even treatment, Qatar is hoping to create the ideal environment for talent to flourish -- provided that the talent can also be found.


 






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