Let the Games Begin


Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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Qatar is probably best known for having the second largest natural gas reserves in the world. However within two weeks, the emirate will likely have a new claim to fame, that of being one of the world's sporting capitals.

The 15th Asian Games kick off in Doha on December 1 with a lavish opening ceremony organisers say will eclipse anything seen before at an international sporting event.

By December 15, when the last race has been run, the last discus thrown and the final lap swum, more than 13,000 athletes and officials from 45 countries will have taken part in 39 separate sports. The games will be broadcast live to an estimated audience of 3bn, and more than 1m people are expected to have seen the events live.

Qatar has apparently left little to chance in staging this sporting showcase, which is the first time that a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country has hosted the Asian Games. The emirate has spent $2.8bn to prepare and run the event, with $1bn of this going into the construction of new sporting venues and upgrading existing facilities alone. The athletes' village will house more than 10,000 and the new hotels will add 1000 rooms to Qatar's accommodation stocks.

The centrepiece of the games is the Khalifa Stadium, which has been revamped from a 20,000-seat open venue into a state of the art 50,000-seat coliseum with a floating roof. Other major facilities include the Hamad Aquatic Centre, the Basketball Indoor Hall and an international standard sports hospital.

However, while all the investments and years of hard work have been specifically directed to staging the two weeks of the games, Qatar has been setting its sights on the marathon, rather than a sprint.

Abdullah al-Qahtani, the director general of the Doha Asian Games Organising Committee, said that the event will put Qatar on the map of sport business and serve to promote the country as a whole.

The pinnacle of Qatar's sporting aspirations is to host the Olympics, having announced its intention to bid for the games of 2016.

According to Sheikh Saoud bin Abdul Rahman Al-Thani, the general secretary of the Qatar Olympic Committee, it is time the games were staged by a smaller country.

"The rest of the world thought that Qatar, with only 200,000 nationals, could not organise the Asian Games, but we have proved them wrong," he said during a press conference in early November. "We believe that the success of such a project is not based on the population of a country, but on its ability."

However, Qatar faces stiff opposition in its race to position itself as the region's premier sporting centre of excellence. Dubai, which also harbours Olympic aspirations, is building a $3bn sports city, intended to both serve both the local and international sporting community. Among its facilities the Dubai Sports City will have a 60,000-seat outdoor stadium, a 25,000-seat cricket stadium, a 10,000-seat indoor arena, a 5000 seat field hockey and athletics venue, along with golfing, tennis and football academies.

However, staging the games is expected to have a major flow on effect for Qatar outside the sporting arena. Like any country hosting a similar event, the emirate is hoping the massive media coverage will promote it as a tourism destination and showcase its potential as a partner in business, investment and trade.

Much of the non-sports specific infrastructure is set to serve the local community, with the $500m athletes village to become a medical centre and other arenas will also double as entertainment venues.

Qatar's national communications company Qtel has invested $137m in new technology in the lead-up to the games, including providing a professional mobile radio system to link the event's 6500 officials and putting in place the infrastructure for broadcasting in Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld (DVB-H). Both will have a life after the games, the former to be used by the country's emergency services and the latter for commercial broadcasts in the new year.

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