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Here comes the foreign legion
Plenty of athletes are in Qatar for the Asian games, but how many are Asian?
Last Modified: 23 Nov 2006 18:31 GMT

Bahrain's Rashid Ramzi: Did he just see his paycheque? (Picture:GALLO/GETTY)

While the Gulf states Qatar and Bahrain are looking forward to some success at the Asian Games, their hopes are largely pinned on expensive and controversial imports.

Importing sporting talent has reached record levels in recent years, with many African athletes trading their nationalities for large sums of cash, but it's hardly a new development.

In 1992 Qatar made their Olympic medal breakthrough thanks to Somali-born Mohamed Suleiman who claimed bronze in the 1500m bronze while, for the 2000 Games in Sydney, Qatar paid $1 million to Bulgaria for eight weightlifters.
  

Said Assad, formerly known as Angel Popov won a bronze, but the deal became somewhat murky when two others Salelem Nayef Badr, formerly Petar Tanev, and Sulyan Abbas Nader, formerly Andrey Ivanov, were withdrawn on the eve of competition because of a mystery virus.

While the trend has been on the rise, there have been some clampdowns.

In 2005, the IAAF ruled that athletes would have to wait three years from being granted citizenship before they could run for a new country.
  
FIFA too have acted.

In 2003, Brazilian footballers Ailton, Leandro and Dede were all offererd one million dollars to switch to Qatar's colours.
  
"Eighty percent of the team are not Qatari," said former coach Phillipe Troussier.

"Hiring foreign players is the only way Qatar will qualify for the World Cup."

Shaheen: beat the nationality hurdle
(Picture: GETTY/GALLO)


FIFA immediately insisted a five-year residency qualification before a foreign player could represent his new homeland.
  
But there is no sign of the talent drain ending.
  
Since the IAAF ruling in 2005, David Hyaga and Nicholas Kemboi have traded in Kenya for Qatar.

"Opportunities"
  
They have followed the lucrative footsteps of Saif Saeed Shaheen, once Kenya's Stephen Cherono who became Qatari, a world champion with wealth beyond his wildest dreams, a result of his domination of the 3,000m steeplechase.
  
Shaheen is keen to make up for lost time after being banned for the 2004 Olympics.
  
"In Kenya, there is nothing like this," said Shaheen, who picked up a $1 million bonus for his 2003 world title in Paris.
  
"Qatar is a country with a lot of opportunities."

Gulf neighbours Bahrain haven’t been shy in raiding Africa for athletic talent.

In September this year Ethiopian born Maryam Yusuf Jamal became the first Asian woman from outside China to win a World Cup event after she won the 1500m in Athens.

Bahrain has added a number of high profile Kenyans to their ranks as well.

Abel Cheruiyot, the junior silver medallist in the 2002 World Cross Country Championships, who is now Abel Yagut Jowhar.

Leonard Mucheru, a team gold medal winner in the 2000 World Cross Country Championships, has become Mushir Salim Jowhar.
  
Gregory Konchellah was the most high profile. His father, Billy Konchellah, was the 1987 and 1991 world champion at 800m. Gregory is now Bahraini and competes as Youssef Saad Kamel.
  
Bahrain's Rashid Ramzi, who switched nationality from Morocco in  2002, is a double world 1500m champion.

Moroccan heart
  
"My heart is still Moroccan," says Ramzi, who is a Bahrain soldier but one with little prospect on any active duty.  

While they may be seen as mercenaries but some, they do also have their sympathisers.

"We have seen a lot of athletes who were running in the 1968 Olympics or 1974, they are living in a very sparse state,” said former steeplechase world record holder Moses Kiptanui
  
"They are very poor despite the fact they have done great things for this country."
  
Another Qatari steeplechaser, Khamis Abdullah Saifeldin, originally from Sudan, was pragmatic in his views.
  
"Qatar is the best in the world in spending money on sport," he said.

Source:
Agencies
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