The contest to host the 2022 World Cup has been to say the least controversial with most people assuming that Qatar only won as a result of corruption. In this context, the performance of its team in the Handball World Tournament which it was also hosting is of more than usual interest. Stephen Fatsis argues in Slate that:
The recent handball tournament could be a case study for things to come. While other countries balk at spending billions to host major sports events, Qatar has no apparent budgetary constraints. For the handball championship, it built three new arenas with a total of nearly 30,000 seats, part of a massive sports infrastructure construction effort that has triggered an international outcry over the treatment of migrant workers. (This week, Qatari World Cup officials appealed for more time to address human rights complaints.) Tournament organizers flew in Pharrell Williams,Gwen Stefani, Jason Derulo, and other pop stars to entertain.
But building stadiums and booking acts is easy. Winning games is hard. Qatar didn’t want to embarrass itself in the handball worlds with a 20-something finish on home soil. A team of native handballers would have been overmatched against the Europeans, and Qatar didn’t have time to try to develop its own world-class players. So it took advantage of a convenient international handball rule that allows a player who hasn’t competed for his national team in three years to join another one. Offering big contracts to play in the domestic league, become citizens, and play for the national side, Qatar built a roster that included about a dozen foreigners, or more than half the team.
Athletes switching nationalities happens in plenty of sports. But the landscape of Qatar’s imports—from Spain to Cuba to Tunisia—was pretty audacious. Left back Bertrand Roiné earned 20 international caps for France. Star goalkeeper Danijel Šarić played for Serbia and Montenegro and for Bosnia and Herzegovina before joining Qatar. (Šarić was the only member of the team who stayed with his European club, FC Barcelona, rather than move to Qatar.) The team’s top scorer, Žarko Marković, represented his native Montenegro 30 times, tallying 95 goals, before moving to Qatar last year. “I have come in a country where there were a lot of investments in the last couple of years and where this sport is at high price,” he said upon signing with El Jaish SC, home to several of the foreign-born national team players.
The Qatar Handball Association no doubt also paid a high price for its coach: Valero Rivera López, who guided his native Spain to the gold medal at the last world championship in 2013. Rivera brought with him a Spanish assistant coach, a Spanish statistician, and a Spanish team doctor. The deal was sweet enough for him to leave behind his son, Valero Rivera Folch, whom he coached on Spain’s national team.
Try as might to see this as solely deplorable, I must be honest I can’t help being impressed by the sheer shamelessness of it.