Not Playing Games


Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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With only two years to go to the opening of the 15th Asian games in the Qatari capital of Doha, the government is working hard to promote both the event and the country itself as a venue for sporting events. A recent series of road-shows which saw Qatari officials tour major Far Eastern and Asian capitals to promote the games, was followed in late September by the visit of a major Qatari delegation to the Asia Sports Summit and Expo.

Held in Bangkok with the stated aim of "Propelling Asian Sports Towards Professionalism in the 21st Century", the summit provided the perfect forum for Qatar to spread the word that the 2006 Asian Games in Doha will be not only the largest of its kind yet held, but also one of the best organised.

A bold claim it may be, but Qatar's Doha Asian Games Organising Committee, which is headed up by the country's heir apparent, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has scheduled for the games to consist of a full 400 events conducted in 40 sports, attracting around 20,000 athletes, officials and spectators from 45 Asian nations.

With organisers and broadcasters planning over 3000 hours of high-definition TV coverage, beamed live to 47 countries, audiences are expected to exceed 1.5bn, making the games one of the most widely viewed sporting events in history.

All in all it's an ambitious project for such a small nation. But with Qatar's oil and gas reserves earning the country record revenues on the back of recent high oil prices, the $2.8bn being spent on the games by the tiny Gulf state is an affordable investment. The more so given that the sporting facilities and other infrastructure being built for the games are all scheduled for other uses after the athletes have departed.

The Asian Games Village in Doha is a case in point. The facility, work on which began in mid 2003, will consist of 1000 residential "villas" plus ancillary medical and other service buildings fit to serve the 12,000 athletes and officials expected for the two-week event. Once the games are over, the village will be incorporated into Doha's Hamad Medical City. When conversion is complete, this will boast no less than three hospitals together with nursing homes, outpatient clinics and staff recreational and sporting facilities - making it one of the largest and best-equipped medical facilities in the region.

At the same time, training facilities for the visiting athletes are being constructed adjacent to 41 of Qatar's existing schools and colleges with the aim that after the games they will be available for use by the country's students.

The scale of the investment in other sporting facilities is no less impressive, either in scale or in the plans for the facilities once the games have ended.

The largest single investment is the raising of the country's national Khalifa stadium to Olympic standards, increasing the seating capacity to 50,000. In addition, many entirely new facilities are being constructed, including a 1500-seat equestrian stadium, a cycling velodrome, a 1000-seat capacity field hockey stadium, two 3000-seat capacity swimming pools, a 3000-seat capacity indoor hall for martial arts, gymnastics and weightlifting, a 3000-seat capacity indoor basketball stadium, a 3000-seat handball stadium, a 1500-seat badminton hall, a 500-seat capacity shooting range and a 36-lane bowling alley.

Impressive as these state-of-the-art facilities are in themselves, Qatar's long-term aim is that the positive publicity generated by the games will help kick start the country as a regional centre for sports tourism.

Although little known as a tourism destination, Qatari officials have reasoned that the country's temperate winter climate, high level of security and generally relaxed atmosphere make the country the perfect venue for a range of sporting events and activities.

Indeed, the country already hosts an annual motorcycle Grand Prix and a number of major events in Class One Offshore and Formula 2000 power-boating, and has held a number of other big international sporting events, such as the Qatar Tennis Open, the Qatar Masters Golf tournament and the Qatar Total Ladies open.

But investment ahead of the Doha Asian Games isn't restricted to sports facilities. Work is also underway on a $2.5bn expansion of Doha International Airport which when completed will have raised capacity from the current 3m passengers per annum to 6m.

The expansion of Qatar's hotel stock is already underway. Ongoing projects for a number of major branded hotels will see the number of rooms available double from around 3500 in early 2004 to over 7000 in time for the games, while other projects currently on the drawing board could see that number rise to over 10,000 by 2010.

Proof positive that in its approach to the 2006 Asian Games, and its hopes for forging a new specialised niche tourism market, Qatar certainly isn't playing games.

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