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Qatar 2020 | SPORTS & TOURISM | INTERVIEW

By offering the best in sports training, Aspire Academy is making footballers (and diplomats) out of young Qataris.

Ali Salem Afifa
BIOGRAPHY

Ali Salem Afifa is one of the original, founding members of the academy's management group. He leads a multidisciplinary team in charge of corporate functions in finance, HR, and operations. Prior to Aspire, Afifa held various positions at the Qatar Football Association (QFA), including the post of general secretary of the technical committee. He also serves as Vice President of Al Rayyan Football Club, one of Qatar's most successful professional football clubs. Afifa's dedication to football in Qatar is well known, and he continues to represent Qatar at several Asian Football Confederation events. Prior to joining QFA, he was production manager at Qatar Petroleum, at the Dukhan plant.

What is the main purpose for the creation of Aspire Academy?
The academy is one of the business units of Aspire Zone Foundation together with Aspire Logistics and Aspetar. Our core business is to identify talented athletes. We provide them with all training, studying, nutrition, and anything that they may need. We also provide accommodation through our on-campus dormitory. We have the Talent Identification Program that lets us survey all the schools, clubs, and sports institutions in Qatar. Children chosen go through three stages of testing and those who pass are selected for full-time positions at Aspire Academy. We contact parents, bring them to the school, and share the programs and the curriculum with them. Today, we have approximately 250 athletes enrolled at Aspire, starting from age 12. We have scouts as well who go around the clubs. As for our staff, our coaches come from 52 different nationalities. Our students are residents and citizens. If they are residents, they are eligible to participate for the national team. We used to give scholarships to internationals. There was some tourism in that. We do sometimes offer scholarships still to bring in competition for our athletes to practice against, but scholarships are now extremely limited.

What is the objective of Aspire?
We want to be a facilitator. Our vision is to be the leading sports institute in the world. We can achieve this by having the right people and putting them in the right position. We can provide the right support, especially with our facilities and in-house expertise. Around 70% of the national team comes from Aspire. Aspire also focuses on the development of personal skills. Beyond professional skills and education, we provide skills for their personal lives as well. They represent the country, playing as ambassadors for Qatar. We make sure they know how to deal with the media and be good public speakers, for example.

How can a small country like Qatar produce one of the best football teams in Asia?
First is having the best coaches from around the world. You also need players who are good examples and role models. Third is the use of the latest technology. We built a football performance center. We use technology there to improve performance, recovery, stress control, and other metrics for players. We can use the findings to improve a player's performance. We are using the best technology available. Injuries are one of the biggest problems athletes face. If they do not have a good recovery or access to professional medical staff, performances will not improve. We want to protect the players and make sure that they are playing their best, while improving their performance and skills every day. In the future, we have plans to offer places for girls here at another school.

What is the relevance of hosting such an event as the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar for an institution such as Aspire?
It is a blessing. It is the best tournament one could host, and it will be special for Qatar and Qataris. It will create a change for the country in terms of hosting events. So much development and change has come as a result. We are working closely with the football federations for 2022 and are trying to see what our role will be during the World Cup. We will play our part as much as we can with our facilities and expertise. We will provide extensive support from services, facilities, and medical services/care for injuries, surgeries, rehabilitation, and so on. Then there is the team, which is the product of Aspire. Some additional teams are following now, like for the Olympics and the U-18.