Qatar’s Minister for Youth and Sports has called for a shake-up of the country’s sports clubs, reportedly criticizing they way they are run as “outdated” and demanding strict government scrutiny of their spending.
Salah bin Ghanem bin Nasser Al Ali has proposed a package of reforms intended to modernize the management of the clubs, which would make them more transparent and give more power to the chairman, rather than the boards.
His comments came while speaking at the second meeting of the Advisory Council’s culture and media committee. The committee has been tasked with preparing a report on the draft law which amends law No. 5 of 1984 governing sports clubs, The Peninsula reports.
There are currently 18 official sports clubs in Qatar, according to Qatar Olympic Committee, many of which started off as small football clubs before growing into professional, multi-sport organizations.
They are all wholly funded by the Qatari government and many are led by prominent Qataris. That includes Lekhwiya SC, which is owned by the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Announcing his plans for change, Al Ali is quoted in local Arabic newspaper Al Sharq as saying: “(The) majority of the sports clubs in Qatar have debts of tens of millions of riyals and their administrative system is outdated.
“One of the reasons for amending the law is that currently there is no proper system to make the club administrations accountable and ensure proper monitoring.”
Qatar has invested heavily in trying to inculcate a sporting culture in the country to improve the health and fitness among its people – more than three-quarters of whom are overweight – as well as unify the country’s multi-ethnic population and bolster Qatar’s credentials as an international sporting hub.
However Al Ali accused clubs of being managed “behind the curtains” with boards which never meet. His new law proposes that club chairmen be elected by a general assembly and be given powers to recruit and assign staff.
All clubs funded by the government would have to submit their accounts to the Ministry for audit purposes.
“The current amendment aims to give more powers to sports clubs and monitor implementation of the government’s sports strategies because the government is funding implementation,” the Minister is reported to have said.
However some members of the Advisory Council reportedly expressed reservations about giving so much power to club chairmen. At its meeting on Monday, it did not accept the proposals, but called for a second opinion on the plans.
While many of the bigger clubs have found success through various sports, football still dominates the budget, fan support and media attention for most and they spend millions attempting to attract international talent to bolster their success.
But they have also drawn controversy in recent years. French-Algerian player Zahir Belounis came to Qatar in 2007, but after initial success, became embroiled in a battle with El-Jaish football club over what he claimed were two years of unpaid wages.
He alleged mistreatment by “two or three people” within the club and the dispute became a political issue concerning the country’s sponsorship (kafala) system as he was unable to secure an exit visa to leave Qatar for 10 months, until his final departure in December 2013.
Meanwhile, French-born Moroccan Abdessalam Ouadoo, who left Qatar at the end of 2012 after playing for Lekhwiya, also claimed his club owed him five months of wages and made other allegations of ill-treatment and threats to withhold his exit visa unless he withdrew complaints against the club.
Authorities in Qatar are trying hard to instill a love of sport and have introduced a number of initiatives such as National Sport Day and the Schools’ Olympics Program as a way of encouraging more people to be active.
Additionally, efforts to shape Qatar as the go-to destination in the region for hosting major, international sporting events have gained some ground.
However, both those events pale in comparison to the size and scope of the 2022 World Cup.
With preparations for the football tournament in full swing, some sports observers are turning their attention to the on-field performance of Qatar’s national team, which failed to advance past the group stage of this month’s Asian Games.
Reuters reported that this bodes poorly for the country’s chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, raising the prospect of Qatar becoming the first nation in nearly 90 years to host the international football tournament without having ever previously played in it.