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Qatar in talks over Olympic venture

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Qatar government are planning to set up a joint venture to improve opportunities for athletes from emerging nations, Arabian Business can reveal.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Qatar government are planning to set up a joint venture to improve opportunities for athletes from emerging nations, Arabian Business can reveal.

The deal, expected to be signed before the end of the year, will see hundreds of children from the developing world given scholarships to the emirate’s hi-tech Academy of Sports Excellence (Aspire).

Qatari officials initiated talks with IOC chief Jacques Rogge earlier this month, during an international summit on sports science in Doha.

“We are going to sign an agreement [with the IOC],” said Dr. Thomas Flock, Aspire director. “It’s about supporting, helping and giving opportunities to student athletes from developing countries. We will identify the best countries to work together with us.”

According to Flock, talks with governments over the scheme will start once the two organisations decide which countries are in most need of assistance. The venture will be handled by the IOC’s Solidarity group, which delivers TV money and other forms of funding to individual countries’ Olympic committees.

Qatar plans to reserve 10% of places in the Aspire academy for students from abroad and has already given scholarships to children from Sudan, Somalia, Palestine, Yemen, Jordan and Iraq. But Flock denied that students would be asked to compete for Qatar once they finished their training. “There will be a written agreement that there will be no nationalities changed in that process. That’s not our aim,” he said.

Aspire is part of a US$1 billion ‘Sports City’ outside Doha, which will host the Asian Games at the end of 2006. The huge complex, which is almost entirely government funded, houses several state-of-the-art laboratories, which specialise in high altitude training, movement analysis and other aspects of sports science.

Designed by French architect Roger Taillibert, it also aims to improve health in the gas-rich Gulf state, where nearly 50% of the population is overweight or obese. “We have a very small population, around 200,000, and 20% have diabetes,” said Flock. “If we continue like that there might not be a lot of Qataris left. So we had better work to improve health and one of the most important ways to do that is to be physically active.”

Although academy officials said it was targeting regional championships first, Flock said Aspire aimed to secure its first Olympic medal-winning graduate during the 2012 Games in London. “You can never plan a gold medal, but we are sure we will have quite a few contestants in 2012 and with a bit of luck we might also gain one or other of the medals,” he said.

Qatar is also widely rumoured to be planning a bid to host the Olympics once the Asian Games are over.

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