By: Anthony Harwood
A Sri Lankan migrant worker who learned how to coach soccer in Qatar is planning to return to his country to teach the sport at grassroots level as part of the country’s World Cup legacy.
Inamul Hasan Najeem, 31, left his family seven years ago to work as a catering supervisor in the tiny Gulf state after a life thrown into disarray by a terrorist attack in 2002 and the 2004 tsunami.
By the age of 18 he had lived in four different places and been to five different schools, but found some comfort in his local football team in Pottuvil.
And when he moved to Qatar to earn money to send to his family back home he continued his involvement in the sport during weekly kickabout sessions with his co-workers.
“Every Friday we played football and learned new skills -not just football skills but also skills in communication, teamwork, listening and leadership.”
Before long Inamul was being recruited as a coach working for ‘Generation Amazing’, Qatar’s bid to grow the sport in poorer countries as part of its World Cup legacy.
As part his training he was one of eight people chosen to travel to the 2018 World Cup in Russia with FIFA’s global ambassadors including Xavi Hernandez, the current manager of Barcelona.
The following year he was sponsored by Qatar to return to Sri Lanka to do something for his community there, using football to get children who had dropped out of school to go back into the classroom.
Inamul said: “I started two football for development programmes for youths and school students in my community – in Kattankudy and Mutur. I chose one school and three youth clubs to take part in this pilot programme.
“When I got to Sri Lanka I travelled more than 100km in a tuk-tuk rickshaw, carrying all the football equipment. We mostly trained in the evening and I could hear the sound of birds and elephants. It is a different kind of feeling to play in rural areas.
“I trained five PE teachers and six assistant coaches, who ran the session for ten weeks. 300 participants were attending the programme, it was a great achievement.”
On his return to Qatar he joined the FIFA Fan Movement working at the 2021 Arab Cup to provide feedback to soccer’s world governing body on how the fan experience at major tournaments could be improved.
This was followed by the World Cup itself in Qatar which started last November, where he was based at Lusail Stadium working in volunteer engagement and got to see all 11 games played there including the famous final when Leo Messi’s Argentina beat France in penalties.
For now Inamul says he has to wait for upheavals in Sri Lanka to be over as the country grapples its worst economic crisis in more than 70 years before he can go back.
“I will continue to work on my coaching skills in Qatar and when the time comes plan to open a football institution in my own community in Sri Lanka, with the help of Generation Amazing.
“The last time I was there everything collapsed because of Covid. Hopefully we will go again soon and I can do something for the kids again.
“But the people are fighting with the government and I don’t know how long it will take to calm down, Maybe 3-4 years, or 5-10 years. But I will return.”
Generation Amazing was set up by Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, in charge of hosting the 2022 World Cup, and claims to have already impacted one million people around the world by promoting football at grassroots level in countries like Nepal, The Philippines, India and Jordan as well as Sri Lanka.
Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail.