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Qatar to buy (more) London institutions 16, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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The investment arm of Qatar’s Sovereign Wealth fund is reportedly seeking to buy three of London’s most prestigious hotels, The Connaught, The Berkeley and Claridges, for £1 billion.

It appears that the hotel’s parent group is currently seeking to refinance  $1 billion worth of debt, which QIA sees as an opening.

These London institutions would fit in well with Qatar’s burgeoning portfolio of blue-chip British investments which currently includes Harrods, the (soon to be former) US Embassy in Grovesnor Square, Canary Wharf, Chelsea Barracks, the Shard at London Bridge, shares in the LSE, Barclay’s Bank and Sainsbury’s to name but some of Qatar’s recent purchases.

Qatar first and foremost wants to make a profit from these ventures. And they have in the past, with Barclay’s being the best example. They clearly feel that the London market generally is currently relatively depressed and that there are bargains to be had. It is also a good sign for the health of London that such investors who could spend their money anywhere on earth continually return to London.

There are also notions of recognition and security. Were something catastrophic to happen to Qatar (as it did to Kuwait) then with all these ties being established, Qatar could rely on a (more) vigorous reaction from the UK in their aid…so goes the theory.

Lastly, I always think that banks, (extremely) high-end real estate like hotels and the like are targeted by QIA because ordinary Qataris can relate to them. Qataris are a rich bunch but still grumble from time to time that the government can be ‘wasting’ their money. So, if and when Qatar buys Harrods or the Savoy as was recently mooted, Qataris have a clear understanding of where their money is going.

 

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Evisceration of ‘a Qatar World Cup’ in The Times 16, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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The Chief sporting correspondent of The Times of London, Matt Dickinson, has written a scathing indictment of a would-be Qatari World Cup.

At times the article borders on what appears to be a deep-seated personal animosity, but, overall, I get the impression that Dickinson is simply genuinely angry at the thought of the World Cup being in Qatar. Not at all for any kind of nefarious, pseudo-racist, jingoistic reason as some may suggest given the severity of his critique, but because Dickinson is a passionate football fan and the key flaw in Qatar’s World Cup is that it would resolutely not put the fans first.

I quote at length as The Times is behind a pay-wall.

Anyone with money, sense or opportunity flees Qatar in June and July. Or stays indoors…The heat makes the place unbearable, with temperatures at 50C (122F)…They say it is possible to overcome this furnace. Hundreds of thousands of fans can move from air-conditioned hotels via air-conditioned trains to air-conditioned stadiums. Relaxation will be found in air-conditioned shopping malls.

Perhaps this sounds like your idea of fun. Perhaps you do not mind the idea of a World Cup in a sizzling sandpit the size of Jamaica.

But most of us quite like the idea of outdoors. Of freedom. Of not being trapped inside, least of all at a football tournament.

Clearly, the summer heat is a true and profound problem for Qatar. Dickinson’s assessment is unimpeachable: Qatar is a simply stinkingly and uncomfortably hot place in the summer. Yes, the stadiums will be cooled to some degree and yes there will be air-conditioned transportation and the like, but I really agree with Dickinson on this point: I don’t want to spend all my time in malls. I too like the outdoors and milling around in throngs of crowds enjoying one event. This is part of the World Cup experience.

And – devastatingly – as the American member of FIFA’s board has put it, “you can’t air-condition a whole country.”

While we can imagine Australia, to take just one of Qatar’s rivals, being galvanised to show itself as a great sporting nation, embracing its World Cup visitors, Doha lacks just about everything, including the stadiums, the hotels, the fans and the climate.

As for cultural exploration, it is going to get very crowded along the alleyways of Doha’s sweaty souk.

Harsh but fair, I suppose. Qatar is truly bereft of anything like the necessary infrastructure at the moment.

A World Cup in Qatar is a laughable idea so it shows what a farcical process the bidding has become that we have had to start taking it seriously.

While in England we are understandably preoccupied by the 2018 race, the greatest injustice of all could be played out in the 2022 vote if a combination of Qatari oil money and collusion secures victory for this little emirate over Australia or its main rivals, the United States.

Yet the possibility of vote-swapping between Qatar 2022 and Spain-Portugal 2018 could put both bids near the front of the grid.

Although the suspension of two executive committee members after a Sunday Times exposé is the main item on the agenda for Fifa’s ethics committee as it meets over the next few days, it is the collusion that has the most potential to warp the process.

And it will be impossible to stop in a secret ballot if Fifa is determined to go ahead with holding the 2018 and 2022 votes together on December 2. There was a proposal to postpone 2022 but Michel Platini, in his wisdom, was among the senior voices saying the show must go on, however lacking in credibility.

Qatar and Spain-Portugal deny any collusion but they could start with seven votes each, potentially taking the World Cup back to Spain, where it was staged more recently than in England, and to Qatar, where you can fry an egg on your car bonnet.

But Blatter must be sitting in his office wondering how to avoid the farce whereby the World Cup goes to a nation with a population less than Zurich’s and that has little if any use for all the stadiums, hotels and much of the infrastructure that would be built.Ensuring defeat for Qatar is vital if Fifa is to salvage any credibility. Trust in the organisation, and its processes, is already shot to pieces.

Quite the rant.

Yet Dickinson has many crucial points which, while forcefully made, are nevertheless valid. For Dickinson – a life-long football fan – a Qatari World Cup would simply represent a whole-sale rejection of what most fans actually want and a triumph of money over sense. This is the kernel of the issue that Qatar must overcome.

 

 

 

On the absurdity of University rankings: Alex Uni 16, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Opinion.
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It is nice to say that I got my undergraduate degree from one of the top three broad curriculum Universities in the UK and that my Phd will be awarded from a University of similar repute. Yet I confess that I’ve never taken University rankings too seriously.

Durham University, for example, recently reached the heady heights of 3rd in the UK for broad curriculum Universities by one measure but was a lowly 30-something in another newspaper’s rankings. Why the disparity? Because the latter heavily weighted student satisfaction ratings in the make-up of their survey.

The NYT, however, has an article highlighting the most egregious league table absurdity yet.

Alexandria University in Egypt was placed 147th in the recent prestigious Times Higher Education league table. This placed it higher than, for example, Georgetown University in Washington D.C., making Alex Uni the only Arab University in the top 200.

(Infinitely) worse still was the fact that it was, according to one criteria, 4th in the world in terms of the ‘weighted impact of a University’s research’. This placed them higher than Harvard and Stanford Universities and is the sole source of their relatively high placing overall.

Digging deeper the NYT discovered that this anomaly stemmed from one Egyptian Professor who published 320 of his own articles in a scientific journal that he edits. He is currently involved in a court case over the “apparent misuse of editorial privileges”. I wonder why.

Another University rankings system noted that Alexandria University was not even the best University in the (small) city.