Qatar uses 2022 World Cup programmes to clinch Leeds United deal

Doha has firmed in the race to buy northern English club

LEEDS, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 19: Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani in the dug out area before the game during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Birmingham City at Elland Road on October 19, 2019 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Qatar is a main contender to buy the former English league champions Leeds United after showering the club with lavishly funded engagement programmes linked to the 2022 World Cup.

Sources close to the club say Qatari Sports Investment has emerged as a favourite to buy the Yorkshire club, which is valued at more than £90 million (Dh427.1m) by its owners.

Key to the relationship between the fund and Leeds has been the role of the Fifa-backed 2022 legacy programmes bankrolled by Qatar.

Over the past year two Qatar agencies established lucrative partnerships with Championship side Leeds United and its northern neighbour, Sheffield FC.

Qatar’s Aspire Academy, which aims to develop and nurture players ahead of the 2022 World Cup, last year announced it was linking up with Leeds.

The Aspire Academy played a large role in Qatar's attempt to be awarded the 2022 World Cup. But it also faced concerns of child trafficking over its searches for talent in developing countries and moving youngsters away to coaching centres in Qatar.

Concerns were voiced that the country would try to naturalise the best of the boys so they would be allowed to play for the national team.

Doha has also faced international condemnation over the death toll and treatment of foreign workers used to build venues for Qatar’s Fifa World Cup.

In April, Leeds announced it was also forming a partnership with a second Qatari academy, Generation Amazing.

This month Fifa said Qatar was funding a partnership to train young footballers at Leeds and the non-league side Sheffield FC, which is recognised as the world's oldest association football club.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09: Players and fans participate in a minute silence ahead of the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Blackburn Rovers at Elland Road on November 09, 2019 in Leeds, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Sheffield FC plays in the English Midlands county of Derbyshire.

The Qatari Aspire programme director Nasser Al Khori launched the Generation Amazing initiative at Sheffield’s ground this month.

Qatar does not own a British club but its investment arm bought leading French side Paris Saint-Germain and Belgium side KAS Eupen.

Qatar’s broadcaster, the beIN Media Group, which owns beIN Sport, is run by four of the investment fund’s five directors.

It already has a major foothold in the UK football market after reportedly paying £429m in the 2016-2019 round of UK Premier League deals for the rights to broadcast matches in the Mena region.

The sport news site ESPN said this week that talks between Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani, the Qatari investment fund and the well-connected lawyer Sophie Jordan, were “moving closer” to fruition.

“More talks are planned in the days to come, and while sources say there won’t be a full agreement soon they say things are moving in a positive direction,” a report said.

The talks come just weeks after Mr Radrizzani met the investment fund chairman and PSG president Nasser Al Khelaifi in Paris to discuss the club.

But negotiations are being overshadowed by a continuing corruption scandal involving the bidding for the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Qatar.

Meanwhile, a French investigation into the bidding process for the 2017 and 2019 track and field world championships brought charges of corruption against Yousef Al Obaidly, who is an investment fund board member and beIN’s chief executive.

It is alleged that a former International Association of Athletics Federations official received two payments totalling $3.5m (Dh12.8m) from Qatari investors before the vote for the 2017 championships.

Qatar eventually lost to London, but was later awarded the 2019 event. Mr Al Obaidly denies any wrongdoing.

The investment fund is closely tied to beIN Sport. Mr Al Khelaifi is also chairman of beIN Media Group.

He is also the president of the Qatar Tennis Federation and vice president of the Asian Tennis Federation for West Asia.

Vice chairman of the sports fund is Adel Mustafawi, while fellow director Mohammed Al Subaie is also a board member at the Qatar Squash Board and executive director of commercial affairs at beIN Media.

The fifth director is lawyer Sophie Jordan, the deputy general director of beIN Sports in France.

The links between Leeds and Qatar have deepened as a result of the World Cup football diplomacy link.

The general director of the Aspire Academy in Qatar is Ivan Bravo, who was a director at Leeds United for more than two and a half years until he stepped down last month.

Mr Bravo is also the technical director of the Qatar Football Association. PSG is also affiliated with the Aspire Academy.

Football finance expert Dr Rob Wilson, at Sheffield Hallam University, said focusing on the English sides was part of a strategy by Qatar to gain credibility with the public and fans as it prepared to make its first UK club purchase.