The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Qatari ‘imports’ an inspiration

Busan, Oct. 14 (AFP): The United Arab Emirates (UAE) could be the next nation to invest in a foreign legion of athletes following a miserable Asian Games.

The Arabian Gulf state is to examine granting nationality to foreign sportsmen allowing them to compete under the UAE flag. “We must think of granting nationality to athletes who can represent the UAE,” said Ibrahim Abdul Malik, the general secretary of the UAE Olympic Committee.

“This could help us win medals and uplift our standard so that we can be a force at the Asian and international level,” Malik was quoted as saying in the Internet edition of Gulf News.

The UAE won just two silver and one bronze medal at the Games, all in bowling. Neighbours Saudi Arabia won seven gold, Qatar four, while even tiny Bahrain went home with three gold medals.

“We can’t compete with other Gulf countries who grant nationality to athletes in order to win medals,” said Malik.

Qatar paid $ 1 million to Bulgaria to ‘buy’ eight weightlifters and the investment paid off when Saif Asaad won the 105kg gold here. “I feel totally Qatari. My days lifting for Bulgaria are a memory,” said Asaad who used to be Angel Popov.

Mohamed Yousef Al-Mana, the president of the Qatar weightlifting federation, said Asaad’s victory had justified the decision to bring over the Bulgarians in the late 1990s.

“When he came he was not that welcome. It is the same when any athlete starts to represent another country. But that lasted only six months and now he speaks fluent Arabic and has a lot of friends in Qatar,” he said.

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