After reading African Soccerscapes, I was reminded of Qatar’s Aspire Academy: a footballing academy based in Doha, Qatar that takes children from Africa, South America, and Asia and brings them into Qatar to develop their football skills. When most people think of Qatar and soccer, they think of the 2022 World Cup or perhaps Paris Saint Germain, which the Qatar Investment Authority owns and sponsors. Much less known is the Aspire Academy, which scouts children from third world nations and attempts to develop them into the next soccer superstars. When the academy opened in 2007, it scouted 430,000 boys across seven African nations. The plan was to accept three boys, however, when Qatari officials saw the level of play and desire of the children they were scouting, they increased this number to 24 (1). To date, Aspire has currently over 3.5 million boys across South America, Africa, and Asia, the best of which get an offer to join the Qatari Academy (1). Some have speculated that these foreign talents could become naturalized Qatari citizens and that they would suit up for the Qatari national team in tournaments, especially in the 2022 World Cup. However, there are some hurdles for this to happen. First, the players would have to feel more allegiance to Qatar than they do their home countries. Second, they would have to live in Qatar for five years after their 18th birthday, unless naturalization rules change (1). Third, it appears as if Qatar understands the potential backlash that naturalizing these players would cause, and stated that that is not the plan.
So if naturalizing these players and placing them on the Qatari National Team is not the plan, then what is? According to Aspire directors, the plan of the Aspire Academy is to help children in struggling countries and to increase in interest and level of play of soccer in Qatar (1). However, the Qatar Investment Authority also owns a second division Belgian Team, K.A.S Eupen, which some Aspire graduates go on to play for. Qatar believes that they can make a profit off of these players if they play well enough for Eupen and can command high transfer fees (2). For example, Diawandou Diagne, an Aspire product who played in Eupen for two years, was signed by Barcelona last summer (2). There had also been speculation that Aspire was set up to have African countries vote for Qatar for the 2022 World Cup (1). Despite the accusations against Qatar, there is no doubt that they are making a difference in many people’s lives through this academy, and when an academy player gets signed to a professional contract, they often send almost all of their money back to Africa (2).
What are your thoughts on the situation? Is it a cause for concern that Qatar is taking young boys from their home country with the possibility of naturalizing them for the 2022 World Cup? Or rather is this a humanitarian effort despite the numerous human rights violations that the country has?
Main photo from Aspire Academy’s Twitter Profile (twitter.com/AspireAcademy)