Right now names like Hansen, Jensen and Larsen are running the court for Denmark at the 2014 European Men’s Handball Championship in Denmark. But by 2015, we could be describing the Qatari national team.
The little oil-rich nation in the Persian Gulf is hosting the 2015 World Men’s Handball Championship and wants to beef up its national team before then by naturalising foreign handball players, including some Danes, according to Mads Winther, a sports agent from the People in Sport agency.
Four or five Danes
“There is interest in Scandinavian players going to the Qatari national team and four or five Danish players could be possibilities,” Winther told TV2.dk. “It is still uncertain whether it will happen because a lot needs to fall into place, but we are working on it and I have had meetings with contacts involved with Qatar.”
While Winther wouldn’t name anyone, he did reveal that the players in question have all played for the Danish national team at some point and are all top players in the top Danish handball league.
“There is a rule that states that one cannot have played for another nation for the past three years in order to change national teams, so it’s a couple of years or more since we last saw these players in red and white,” Winther said.
“I would entertain the idea”
Claus Møller Jakobsen, the former World Cup bronze medal winner for Denmark, fits Winther’s description of what Qatar is looking for, and he is not dismissive about a late-career adventure.
“I haven’t been officially contacted, but if they did approach me, I would probably entertain the idea,” Jakobsen told BT tabloid. “I’m not sure if I would say yes, since it doesn’t appeal that much to me, but if I heard a bit more about the project and it sounded exciting, then my interest could be piqued.”
Jakobsen, who has played over 100 games for Denmark and has won the Champions League with Cuidad Real in 2006, doesn’t have the same romantic feelings about naturalisation as others have.
“You can criticise it, but they are just following the International Handball Federation (IHF) rules, so it’s not illegal and it can give some players a massive experience and financial reward on top of it,” the 37-year-old said.
The Man City of handball
Players changing national teams are not an uncommon phenomenon in handball – Spain’s winning team at the 2013 World Men’s Handball Championship included Yugoslavian-born Arpad Sterbik – but Qatar has been blasted for taking considerable advantage of the law that allows it.
During the recent Golden League tournament in France – a tournament in which Qatar beat Norway, drew with Denmark and lost narrowly to France – the Qatari team included just one player born in Qatar. The rest of the players hailed originally from the Balkans, northern Africa, Spain and France – a description that would be equally apt of Manchester City.
“I don’t approve of it,” Bent Nyegaard, the handball expert for TV2 Sport, told TV2.dk. “A nationality is not something that you can buy or be bought for. But as long as the rules are as they are, I guess it’s okay. If it were up to me, I would change it.”
Qatar has also signed the Spanish coach Valero Rivera, who coached Spain to victory in the 2013 worlds – another clear signal that it intends to be competitive at any cost when it hosts the same tournament in 2015.
Everything’s above board
The IHF is aware of the criticism but contends that there is nothing it can do since Qatar is only following regulations that have been agreed upon.
“It’s the member nations, including Denmark, Germany, Qatar and the other nations in the IHF that have decided that changing nationality would be possible,” Hassan Moustafa, the IHF president, told TV2.dk. “We can’t do anything but respect the decision.”
Aside from the world championship, Qatar is also hosting the 2022 World Cup in football – a tournament that has already courted controversy thanks to the country’s exploitation of migrant labourers to help it get ready, and the possibility of players’ lives being endangered if it is contested during searing summer temperatures.
And the Qatari football national team is no stranger to naturalising footballers from abroad. Recent squad call-ups include players from Brazil, Ghana, France, Algeria and Uruguay.