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Tracy Edwards on the Belounis case : „Toothless, courageless wimps“

Who is going to pay? Tracy Edwards with Prince Andrew (l.) and Abdulla al-Qahtani, Director General of the Doha 2006 Aisan Games Organizing committee in 2005 – before “things turned very nasty, very quickly” Bild: privat

French Footballer Zahir Belounis is stuck in Qatar since 2011 – he cannot leave the country without dispensing with wage claims against his former club. Sailor Tracy Edwards had a very similar experience in 2005. An interview on conditions in Qatar.

          3 Min.

          Mrs Edwards, via Twitter you spoke out for Zahir Belounis who cannot leave Qatar. You’re saying you were in a scarily similar situation in 2005…

          … I was stuck in Qatar, I could not leave, I could not pay my rent, I had to sell my furniture to generate money. Zahir Belounis apparently had to do the same. That’s scary.

          What were you doing in Qatar?

          We had signed a deal in 2003, we were supposed to receive 6 Million Pounds from Qatar Sports International, a company owned by the Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani  in a move to make Qatar one of the outstanding sailing hubs in the world. Part of the project was the Oryx Quest 05 race round the world, held in 2005 and a great success.

          Organized by you, financed by QSI.

          Organized and financed by me. I never received money from QSI, they claimed we never had a contract. I got an email thanking me for the great success in organizing and financing the race. I had to fund it with a loan which bankrupted me, my house went into collateral. QSI was dissolved while the race was held and renamed: Qatar Sports Investment. Different name, but the same people.

          The company that bought out football club Paris Saint-Germain in 2012 and invested hundreds of millions of Euro?

          Exactly. But I was lucky, I had flown out my daughter, my manager and his family, before they could be held in Qatar.

          Why were you stuck in Qatar then?

          I first flew back with my people to England, but then I received a request from my ‘sponsor’ the Qatari Foreign Minister to come back to solve the financial issues. At this point, I thought I would get my money. So I flew back, against the advice of my family and friends and my own gut feeling. Then things got very nasty, very quickly.

          Why?

          My exit visa was denied, just like in Zahir’s case. And I had the feeling I was being followed and that my phone was tapped. I was really scared, I only communicated with my family via coded text messages. And it was impossible to get in touch with my sponsor – all the people that I had thought I had a network with vanished all of a sudden.

          Who was your sponsor?

          Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, the qatari foreign minister. A very powerful man. But the British Consulate was absolutely useless. I was told to get a solicitor: But no solicitor wanted to take my case. Fawzia Al Obaidly changed the situation, she took my case. And my mother got in touch with Terry Waite. He was held hostage in Lebanon for four years in the late 80s and early 90s. Waite knew the former British ambassador in Qatar who then called the Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. One night, I was told: Go to the airport. My family had reserved a flight for me every day. I checked in, five minutes before the departure gate was closed, somebody ran up to me with the exit visa.

          So the Emir facilitated your exit?

          Yes. But does he know I never received money? I’m none the wiser now. But the problem in Qatar are not the elite.

          Who is?

          On the levels below, in the middle management are an awful lot of utterly incompetent people who believe they are untouchable. Unfortunately, they are. I have done business in a lot of countries in the Middle East, in Jordan, in Lebanon, in Abu Dhabi. It’s nowhere as bad as in Qatar.  Even in Saudi-Arabia they cannot understand the Qataris.

          So there is no way to take influence on Qatar?

          There surely is. Sport has the potential to be one way. Federations can take a lot of influence, especially football and Fifa. Football is highlighting the horrendous human rights record, through football we know that hundreds of people are dying on the building sites. But if so many talks end without changes to the better, you get the impression that in the sports bodies, there are toothless, courageless wimps who do not use their influence.

          Zahir Belounis wrote an open letter to Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane to get heard. Will this help him?

          He has to keep making a lot of noise. The idea that the world thinks the Qataris are incompetent bothers them. I wish Twitter had existed when I was in that situation. But it is so easy to get lost in the maze they lay out for you. I started to believe I was mad, that I was imagining my problems – and I was just held for 28 days. Belounis is held for over two years in Qatar.

          Do you believe he is ever going to get paid?

          No. If he gets a chance to get out, he should take it. There are more important things in life then money. Freedom is one of them.  You said Qatar wanted to become one oft he sailing hubs in the world. Has that worked out? No, not at all. Football got much more interesting for them. But Oman has picked up their ideas. And that’s much better in my view.  They honour their contracts and the pay what they promise.

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