Qatari strategy for sport
Qatar may be a small country on the Persian Gulf with only 2 million inhabitants but it is securely on the sports map. A one sentence description of the country is: “Qatar is a peninsular Arab country whose terrain comprises arid desert and a long Persian Gulf shoreline of beaches and dunes”.
The country has hosted a Diamond League event for a few years, it is hosting the IPC (Disability) Athletics World Championships at the moment and will host the 2019 IAAF Athletics World Championships. Then there are the World Handball and World Cycling Championships in the next two years before the FIFA Football World Cup in 2022.
How has a small country like Qatar attracted so many top events to the country? Stuart Weir spoke to Sheikha Asma Al Thani, a member of the Qatari Royal Family, Director of Marketing for the Qatar Olympic Committee.
1. WHY HAS QATAR PUT SO MUCH INVESTMENT INTO SPORT?
Qatar is passionate about sport. We love how sport can change communities, can change societies. We love how sport breaks boundaries. We love how sport can challenge everyone to achieve a specific goal. That is why we are passionate about it and will do our best to continue hosting such events. We want to have people witness and experience these events in Doha.
2. TELL ME ABOUT THE ACADEMIES YOU HAVE DEVELOPED?
We have the Olympic Academy which brings people from across the word resulting in a lot of cross-cultural education. You have people from Qatar and abroad learning about sport – about event-management, about sports management and about technical things within the sport and Olympism. The Aspire Academy brings up a younger generation of athletes who can participate in a number of sports.
3. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO HOST THE IPC WORLD ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIPS?
What we wanted to do is have a legacy for Qatar and a legacy for the region. The event had never taken place in the Middle East and it is very important for us first of all to showcase such amazing talent, such amazing athletes who have achieved amazing goals and set world records. It was also breaking down boundaries and changing perceptions of disability. And the improvements in hotels, transport and in the venues show that Qatar is now ready to host other events, whether in disability or non-disability sports.
4. HAVE YOU TRIED TO GET MORE WOMEN INTO SPORT?
I think in Qatar, sport is important to everyone, be it men or women and as I said, it is all about breaking down boundaries and changing perceptions. Having Qatari women – and other women from around the region – participate in the event and having people see them participating is important. Women participating, breaking boundaries, enjoying it and achieving goals is what we are aiming at.
This has been very important for us. We do have the Qatar Women’s Sports Committee. They are working to develop a new generation of athletes. Of course, this takes time but already we have women participating in this championship and in other championships as well. This will continue to increase once women see other women achieving – breaking boundaries, breaking world records. And they will start to be part of this as well.
5. WHAT WILL QATAR OFFER FOR FOOTBALL WORLD CUP?
I think Qatar is a great place to host such an event. We want the country to be a sports hub and a sports tourism destination. We have the 2019 IAAF Athletics World Championship and the World Cycling Championship happening next year. We will continue to develop the country but we are ready to host such events and we will host better events going forward.
6. WILL THE HEAT BE A PROBLEM FOR THE WORLD CUP?
I don’t think the heat will be a problem. The World Cup will be in November. The weather will be beautiful – like summer in London, let us say. The infra-structure is ready. We have air-conditioned areas. The hotels are ready. Even what they are doing to the venues to be ready to host such events either in the heat or in the cold. November is a perfect time in Doha and it will be beautiful weather, day and night.
7. IS IT A REALISTIC AMBITION FOR QATAT TO HOST THE OLYMPICS?
We all aspire. Everyone aspires to host the Olympics and this is what we aim to do. We will achieve it, I am sure, in the future but for the moment we are focussing on the events we have in our calendar.
8. HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO WATCH MUCH OF THE IPC EVENT?
Yes. It is beyond incredible. It is amazing to see these athletes compete and breaking their own world records. It is a lesson to all I think.