Qatar sports on the rise
Australia's Andres Quintana charges for the ball during their World Cup qualifier clash against Qatar on Saturday, June 14 at Al Sadd Stadium Doha. AP Photo/STR
Defining a nation through sport is a time-honoured tradition. Australia has been doing it for years, so have New Zealand and many others.
It often gives smaller countries the chance to upset and defeat larger ones, it can build patriotism and national goodwill, and it can inspire a nation’s people to not only dream but dream big.
It can put a country on the world stage and has many cultural, political, social and wider economic benefits.
Sport is not the only vehicle to enhance a country’s reputation, but it is a common, peaceful and popular one.
While Australia might have been doing this for the best part of the past 70 years, the tiny Middle Eastern nation of Qatar has only recently embarked on this path.
But there is no patience or reticence in its approach. Qatar, the oil-rich country of just under two million people, is desperate to make up for lost time.
It is hell-bent on becoming a big player in the world of sport and it has the resources to achieve that goal.
Qatar is now home to the ATP Tennis Tournament Doha, the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, the FIM Moto Racing World Championships, the FEI Equestrian Global Champions Tour, the WTA Tour Tennis Championships, IAAF Diamond League, the IHF Handball Super Globe, the Tour of Qatar and the FIVB Club World Championships.
It has failed in hosting bids for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games and the 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championships, but in recent years it has staged the Asian Cup and the IAAF World Indoor Championships.
It is getting ready for another shot at the Summer Olympic Games.
In 2014 it will host the FINA Short Course World Championships, in 2015 the IHF Handball World Championships and of course, the jewel in the crown, the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Qatar’s capture of the biggest sporting event on the planet still astounds, amazes and enrages many, and so it should.
How can a country stage a World Cup in oppressive weather conditions, with little infrastructure and no footballing pedigree?
How can a country with a history of poor sports attendance (see the 2011 Asian Cup and Tour of Qatar crowds) and an alcohol ban host global football’s pride and joy?
These questions have yet to be answered.
But if you thought the Qataris would stop with their successful World Cup bid, you would be mistaken.
They will host the UCI’s Road Cycling World Championships in 2016, and have already bought big clubs in Spain’s Primera Liga and France’s Ligue 1.
They have established links with the best football club in the world, Barcelona, and are eyeing other European outfits.
They are expanding their own football league, the Qatar Stars League, which has previously featured top players such as Pep Guardiola and Gabriel Batistuta.
The national team is currently ranked 104th in the world and have naturalised many players from other countries to play for them, such as the Brazilians Fabio Cesar and Marcone, and the Uruguayan Sebastian Soria.
Qatar has powerful friends like Nicolas Sarkozy, and as one of the richest countries in the world, it has the finances to buy more power and influence.
All this comes from a country with no history of sporting excellence or background. You would be hard placed to name a single great Qatari athlete or world champion.
The country won just two bronze medals at the London Olympics – one in the men’s high jump and one in the men’s skeet shooting.
The ruling Al Thani family want events like the World Cup to start a legacy in the country, to develop better sportsmen and women, and encourage others to take up sport.
Part of the masterplan is to produce world-class facilities that will help Qatari athletes reach world sport’s competitive peaks.
Surely there is also something in the healing power of sport that they hope will project a positive image of the nation, and help keep the constitutional monarchy in power.
Qatar has already established itself in the media world with the broadcaster Al Jazeera. Sport is next on the agenda, and giant strides have already been made.
There seems little stopping the Qatari sporting juggernaut, as sport’s amateur links and ideals wither, and professionalism, money and business take centre stage.
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