Doha: Ever since its establishment in 2008, Aspire Zone Foundation’s (AZF) goal has been becoming the reference in sports excellence worldwide by 2020. Year after year, the organisation has trained successful athletes and promoted a sporting culture in line with Qatar’s National Development Strategy.
To realise this vision, AZF and its member organisations — Aspire Academy, Aspetar and Aspire Logistics — adopted a unique collaborative approach, which allows every activity to reflect the foundation’s diverse mission. The mission directs the organisation to improve sports performance by nurturing champions and enhancing their skills, hosting events to the highest standards, providing world-class medical services to elite athletes and contributing to the development of the sports sector in Qatar.
A year of unprecedented successes and milestones
2017 has been a milestone year for AZF in many respects, including being named the Best Sports Organisation 2017 by the General Secretariat and Experts Committee at the second annual Arab Best Award ceremony in Morocco. In May, The Emir of Qatar HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani inaugurated Khalifa International Stadium — one of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar venues and the first in the world to be awarded a four-star rating from the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS).
Leading up to the Emir’s Cup Final held at the venue, AZF and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) set a new world record for re-laying the turf at International Stadium in just 13 hours and 30 minutes.
The year that went by also marked a series of technological innovations achieved by AZF in partnership with local and international organisations.
Last January, AZF teamed up with the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) and Qatar University scientists to develop innovative helmets designed to keep workers cool in summer months. In February, together with the Qatar Football Association and QNB Stars League, Aspire Academy launched the Qatar Football Analytics Dashboard — a set of tools that help analyse and support the sporting performance of players in Qatar and then make the data available to clubs, coaches and the players themselves.
In April, AZF and Ooredoo unveiled for the first time a new application that automatically tracked all the runners who took part in this year’s Samla Race – a Desert Extreme Trek.
In May, Aspetar’s unveiled its one-of-a-kind hamstring protocol — a six-stage evidence-based rehabilitation protocol that builds upon leading global hamstring rehabilitation studies. The protocol includes exercises and video therapy sessions to help prevent hamstring injuries in athletes and non-athletes alike.
And in August, AZF announced the completion of its wastewater treatment station to achieve self-sufficiency in water supplies required for irrigation and cooling of the organisation’s facilities. The state-of-the-art facility uses innovative reverse osmosis technology and is one of the first in the country to do so. This move marks a high point in AZF’s efforts to meet Qatar’s national strategic objectives around sound natural resource management while making use of the latest technology to improve systems.
Barshim basks in glory
Aspire Academy graduate Mutaz Essa Barshim won a gold medal in the high jump at the 2017 IAAF World Championship after clearing 2.43M and achieving the second highest jump of all time. This remarkable performance earned him the prestigious 2017 IAAF World Athlete of the Year award.
The Academy’s star graduate, squash player, Abdullah Al Tamimi made history by becoming the first Qatari player to reach the last 16-round of the World Championships at the AJ Bell PSA World Championships 2017 in Manchester.
Meanwhile, the Qatar national Under-19 football team, which is made up of Aspire Academy’s student-athletes, won this year’s 2017 ISF World Schools Football Championships held in Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic. Elsewhere, the Academy’s ‘Aspire Football Dreams’ U-17 football team were runners-up after putting up a strong fight against Real Madrid CF’s youth team during the annual Al Kass International Cup tournament.
Largest altitude acclimatisation facility
Aspetar upgraded its altitude acclimatisation facility to create an artificial environment equivalent to 5500m above sea level, making it the first of its kind in the world. This upgraded facility is one of the world’s largest and houses up to 50 athletes at a time, allowing entire teams to benefit from high altitude recovery and adapt themselves to decreased levels of oxygen.
Aspetar gains new global recognition
Aspetar’s Sports Surgery Training Centre (SSTC) was recognised as a teaching medical centre by the International Society of Arthroscopy, Knee Surgery and Orthopaedic Sports Medicine (ISAKOS), a globally-renowned medical society, making Qatar the first Middle Eastern country to obtain such accreditation.
Aspetar was also awarded the World Health Organisation Patient Safety Friendly Hospital (PSFH) Accreditation. The accreditation is administered by the World Health Organisation Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (WHO/EMRO) in partnership with Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).
Regular stop for leading sporting delegations and teams
Like every year, AZF and its member organisations Aspire Academy and Aspetar, hosted elite training camps for top-tier athletes and sports teams, attracting the likes of German team Bayern Munich for the seventh consecutive year, French team Paris Saint-Germain, Chinese teams Shanghai SIPG FC and Tianjin Quanjian FC, Belgian team KAS Eupen, and Indian team Delhi Dynamos FC, amongst others. In addition, Aspetar also welcomed the France women's national rugby union team, and the National French Athletics team. These training camps nurture elite sporting talent, allowing athletes to compete at their maximum potential and providing them with a whole host of integrated sporting services in one place.
AZF and its member organisations have also became a regular stop for leading delegations visiting Doha to participate in major international events taking place in Qatar.
Some of the key international high-level delegations visiting Aspire Zone this year included representatives from the Hellenic Football Federation (HFF) South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), the Hellenic Football Federation (HFF), the Football Association of Wales, Uzbekistan Football Federation (UFF), Japanese Football Association, the Football Association of Serbia, Football Federation Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI), the Football Association of Iceland, among others. Representatives from various international organisations, including UNESCO, and international ambassadors, also visited the facility.
Other visitors to Aspire Zone included Barcelona’s Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, Liverpool’s Adam Lallana, retired French footballer Eric Abidal, retired Brazilian footballer Giovane Elber, reigning Olympic gold medallist in the pole vault Thiago Braz da Silva, 2017 Decathlon world champion Kevin Mayer, Greek Olympic pole vaulting champion Katerina Stefanidi, and eight-time Olympic medal winner Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica.
Meanwhile, Aspetar became an ideal treatment and rehabilitation destination for elite athletes, including AFC Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson, Tianjin TEDA midfielder, Nigerian John Obi Mikel, Stoke City’s s Stephen Ireland, New York City FC player Maxime Chanot, Icelandic striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and South African 400m world record holder Wayde van Niekerk.
AZF’s commitment to elevating the expertise of its member organisations involved signing a number of milestone partnership agreements this year. These are also designed to support AZF’s mission to become a global leader in managing elite athletes by 2020.
In January, AZF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Qatar University, the Qatar Football Association, and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy to establish and implement an academic programme for talented athletes. This was followed by a MoU with the French National Institute of Sport expertise and performance (INSEP) in May. Meanwhile, Aspetar signed a partnership agreement with Qatar University to establish collaboration in the field of medical education and research.
Aspire Academy also signed a number of agreements with international organisations. These included one with Delhi Dynamos FC to develop and shape the future of the club in the Indian Super League, and a cooperation agreement with Nakheel Landscapes enabling it to be the official sponsor and exclusive turf management partner of Aspire-owned Spanish football club, Cultural y Deportiva Leonesa. The Academy also signed partnership agreements with the Italian Fencing Federation and the Qatar Weightlifting and Fencing Federation to develop young Qatari and Italian fencing players by providing them with high-quality training as well as opportunities to participate in top-flight competition.
Locally, the Academy signed partnerships this year with Teach For Qatar (TFQ) to develop the skills of young teachers in Qatar as part of TFQ’s Summer Institute and Camp Qatar. In addition, with ‘ALDOHA Link for Information Technology (IT)’ to develop online content to elevate the learning experience for the Academy’s student-athletes. And also with Dreama – the pioneering foundation that provides care to orphans – allowing its children to benefit from the Academy’s facilities and training programmes.
AZF brings new events to Qatar
Part of AZF’s mission is to promote sporting activity by providing a range of engaging activities year-round, designed to appeal to community members of all ages and backgrounds. One such example is organising Qatar’s first ever obstacle course race – ‘Esrar’ – an event which attracted a wide range of participants, from Qatar’s high-jumping champion Mutaz Barshim, the 'Ooredoo Temba' 5-a-side football tournament, and teams that took part in the 12th Player Tournament for Football Fan Associations.
In addition to organising high-quality sports events for residents and locals in Qatar, AZF also organised a number of cultural and entertainment events including Qatar’s first ever lake show, the ‘Aspire Lake Festival’, which was attended by more than 75,000 people, and the 1st International Kite Festival. Aspetar also launched the 'Healthy Ramadan with Aspetar Experts' campaign and hosted the fourth travelling fellowship programme.
In addition to laying on a number of unique events, AZF and its member organisation Aspire Academy held several local and international tournaments that have now become key fixtures in the annual sporting calendar. Some of the most notable examples from this year included Qatar's Strongest Man 2017, the Aspire Banks Football Tournament, the Aspire Torch Staircase Run, the sixth Ramadan Sports Festival, the third edition of the “Splash and Dash”, “Discover Tennis with Aspire”, the sixth Al Kass International Cup 2017, and the 2nd Professional Squash Association (PSA) Satellite Tournament. Aspire Academy was also very active year-round in organising tournaments for its youth teams against international visiting teams, as part of the Tri-Series football tournament.
ASPIRE4SPORT Congress & Exhibition
Last October, AZF successfully organised its eighth annual ASPIRE4SPORT Congress & Exhibition. This exclusive series of events and networking sessions offers European and Qatari sports industry professionals the chance to engage with those key decision makers that are shaping the landscape of the Gulf region’s sports business industry, paving the way for future partnerships.
This year’s ASPIRE4SPORT Exhibition attracted more Qatari stakeholders than in previous years including the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, Qatar Football Association (QFA), Qatar Airways, the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC), and the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) amongst others.
In parallel, Aspire Academy hosted the fourth edition of the "Global Summit" on 'Football Performance and Science' – a gathering of some of the most influential and international figures in football along with leading members of the scientific community to discuss sports training methodology worldwide. Over the two-days, more than 160 representatives from 80 clubs took part – which form part of the “Aspire in the World Fellows” community. Involving the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and Juventus, it is one of the largest gatherings of its kind anywhere in the world.
The “2nd Aspire-Tech Conference’, a one-day conference held on the first day of the ASPIRE4SPORT Congress and Exhibition also took place at ASPIRE4SPORT this year. With Qatar undertaking a transformative technology journey during the next five years leading up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™, the conference shed light on the main challenges, trends and key developments in sports technology from around the world.
Thanks to its world-leading infrastructure and facilities, Aspire Zone was the ideal location to host several major international competitions
AZF also hosted a number of international sporting events across a number of its world-class facilities. These included the tenth International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) Artistic Gymnastics World Cup, the fifth GCC Women Games, the FINA Airweave Swimming World Cup 2017 and the 2017 Qatar Fencing Grand Prix.
Aspetar also provided medical support for a number of major international sporting events taking place in Doha, including the Qatar ExxonMobil Open tennis tournament and the 2017 IAAF Diamond League, in addition to supporting local clubs and federations who partake in international and regional competitions.
Corporate Social Responsibility
The aim of the organization's CSR efforts is to provide equal and world-class sporting opportunities for all members of the society of all ages and physical capabilities. One of this year’s CSR programme highlights was the training camp organised by Aspire Academy for the Syrian refugees in Jordan. The training camp was organised in collaboration with the Arab League, represented by HE Sheikha Hessa bint Khalifa bin Ahmed al Thani, Special Envoy of the Arab League Secretary-General.
During the holy month of Ramadan, AZF also organised employee visits to various local non-profit organisations and health institutions including Ehsan Centre for Empowerment and Elderly Care, the Fahad Bin Jassim Kidney Centre, Dreama Centre for Orphans Empowerment, Rumailah Hospital, and Al Amal Hospital.
AZF also launched its Freestyle Aquatics program dedicated to people with special needs and organised breast cancer awareness campaigns in October in collaboration with the Qatar Cancer Society.
Aspire Academy also sent its student-athletes on humanitarian missions locally and internationally to developing countries, including a trip to Bangladesh where they helped treat patients with Glaucoma, as well as visits to orphanages and elderly care centres.