A 10-minute drive from downtown Doha, the capital of Qatar, a vast low-rise structure some 200 meters across comes into view on the side of the highway.
It is Education City, operated by the Qatar Foundation, which made headlines when it signed a sponsorship deal with FC Barcelona.
The foundation was established by Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani upon his appointment in 1995, and is run by his wife, Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned.
Its three core endeavors are education, science, and regional development. It houses branch campuses of eight famous European and American universities, including Georgetown University of the United States.
"Our natural resources won't last forever," says a person connected to the foundation. "It is the focal point of a national strategy to create a center for the world's knowledge."
So, why did the foundation enter into a sponsorship deal with FC Barcelona? According to another insider: "The finances actually come from a government fund called Qatar Sports Investments (QSI). It's a means of raising awareness of Qatar overseas."
Qatar has a population of around 1.7 million. Over half of its $130 billion (10.4 trillion yen) gross domestic product is generated by its natural resources, such as natural gas.
In 2008, the government drew up a "National Vision 2030" that aims to end Qatar's excessive reliance on its resources to become a sustainable country. Its pillars are human resources, society, the economy and the environment, as well as the successful bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha.
The secluded offices of QSI are located on the fourth floor of a small building in the Doha city center. A staff member informs me that its executives are out of the country, as they are busy preparing to open an office in Paris.
QSI was founded in the mid-2000s for sports promotion and net investment. It also pumps funds into other fields, such as real estate and apparel companies. Between 2011 and this year, it completed a buyout of French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain. The deal was said to be worth around 100 million euros (10.58 billion yen, or $130.7 million).
Only a five-minute drive from the club's stadium is a company with a deep connection to QSI: the headquarters of al-Jazeera Sports (AJS), an arm of the Middle East's foremost television broadcast network.
As with its parent company, al-Jazeera, it is a state-run broadcaster that receives funding from the Qatari government. In 2011, AJS and French broadcaster Canal Plus+ jointly purchased the domestic television rights for Ligue 1 matches through to 2016.
According to local news reports, the two companies paid a total of 500 million euros. AJS' match broadcasts, which begin in June this year, will be the centerpiece of its lineup.
In fact, the man in charge of the project, AJS general manager Nasser al Khelaifi, is also president of Qatar Sports Investment and Paris Saint-Germain. He is a 38-year-old former professional tennis player mainly based in Paris, and the kind of driven businessman who has no compunction about sending e-mails to his staff at 3 a.m.
Last year, he expressed interest in obtaining the services of U.S.-based player David Beckham.
So, here's the situation: There's a state-managed fund that invests in a soccer club and acquires impact players, and a state-run broadcaster that pours money into a soccer league through purchasing television rights.
One can sense Qatar's intention to increase its global influence through European soccer.
To date, QSI is thought to have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into soccer-related enterprises. Even so, this is insignificant in comparison with the more than $100 billion that the Qatari government intends to invest over the next four to five years.
"Al-Jazeera sets it sights on gaining television broadcast rights to the English Premier League." A succession of headlines such as this featured prominently in major English media outlets in early March.
AJS news department director Mohammed Ammor explains this as popular speculation. "Nothing is impossible. France will be an important testing ground for our ventures into other markets around the world."
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Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The Qatari government plans to build nine new stadiums for the tournament. They will feature outer walls draped with giant video screens and gleaming gold facades.
A stadium called "Doha Port" will be even be built in Doha Harbor on a park jutting out into the sea.
Solar panels will be installed on the roofs over the stands of every stadium. The pitches will stay uncovered, but even in mid-summer when the temperature exceeds 40 degrees, air conditioning inside the stadiums will keep the temperature of the playing area at an average 27 degrees.
The total cost of constructing the stadiums will exceed $4 billion. Subways and a new airport will be built in Doha City, and the government is earmarking $65 billion on infrastructure between 2011 and 2016.
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