ZAGREB, Croatia, December 7. WHILE South Africa’s Roland Schoeman has spurned an offer to switch his allegiance to Qatar, the same cannot be said for Croatian Duje Draganja. The sprint sensation, a 24-year-old, recently accepted a lucrative offer to swim for the Middle Eastern nation, which has been chasing high-profile athletes by offering significant sums of money.
Before accepting the offer from Qatar, which is believed to be at least $1 million, Draganja gave Croatian swimming officials the opportunity to keep him swimming under his homeland’s flag. Ultimately, though, the Arab nation won out and Draganja is expected to race for Qatar at next year’s World Short Course Championships in Shanghai, China.
"I have accepted Qatar's offer and from next year, they will be my sponsors," Draganja told the Associated Press in an e-mailed statement. "Reaching the sports goals I desire require big funds. Attempts to find sponsors in Croatia have failed."
Draganja’s decision was not unexpected after Croatian officials indicated that they could not match the Qatar offer. In addition to the concrete dollar figure that has been mentioned, Draganja will also have the chance to earn bonuses based on his performances at major competitions – Olympics and World Championships – or for the establishment of world records.
At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Draganja collected a silver medal in the 50 freestyle, finishing behind Gary Hall Jr. He also placed sixth in the 100 free and took seventh in the 100 butterfly. At last summer’s World Championships in Montreal, Draganja was second in the 50 free, fifth in the 100 free and seventh in the 50 fly.
"(I am) not giving up my Croatian passport, my homeland and my (Roman Catholic) religion. It would be impossible," Draganja told the Associated Press.