Dubai may be considered as the region’s
sporting capital, but 500 miles down the
coast, Qatar has stunned the sporting
world by being chosen to host one of the
planet’s biggest events. David Williams
less than three years time, the biggest
event of any kind that the Middle East has
ever witnessed will be held in the tiny
peninsular emirate of Qatar.
In terms of numbers of
sports and competitors, the Asian Games
eclipses even the Olympics. Up to 20,000
sportsmen and women will participate in an
expected 35 events as the best competitors
from the length and breadth of the world’s
most populous continent converges on its
capital city of Doha.
Last year’s Asian
Games in Busan, South Korea, was hailed as
a massive success but the Doha Asian Games
Organising Committee (DAGOC) is investing
over one billion dollars in a bid to stage
the most successful Asian Games ever
H.E. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad
al-Thani, Chairman of the Qatar National
Olympic Committee and President of the
DAGOC Board of Directors officially
received the flag of the Olympic Council
of Asia signifying the hand over of the
games to Doha in front of 60,000 fans at
the Busan closing ceremony.
Buhmaid, President of the DAGOC also
received the games torch from Dr. Chung
Soon Taek, President of the Busan Asian
Games Organising committee.
Organising world-class sporting events is
nothing new for Doha, but events like the
Asian Games are a different ballgame
altogether. Many were skeptical when
Doha was the surprise choice for
hosting the event, getting the nod ahead
of Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and New Delhi.
But work has began on
putting the infrastructure in place that
will ensure Qatar is one of the most
extensively equipped sporting cities in
All venues, with exception
to the mountain biking, will be located
within 12kms of the Athletes Village,
which is being constructed in the heart of
the city next to Hamad General Hospital.
Following the Asian Games, which start on
January 12, 2006, the facility will be
used as a futuristic medical village.
To the north of the city,
venues will be constructed to host
shooting while existing facilities will be
used for golf and chess. Venues hosting
football, basketball, badminton and
equestrian will be erected to the west of
the city, close to the Khalifa Sports
Complex which is the centerpiece for the
2006 Asian Games.
Built at a cost expected to
run into hundreds of millions of dollars,
the Khalifa Sports Complex will be home to
the athletics, aquatics, gymnastics,
hockey, martial arts and the curiously
named wushu and sepak takraw events. In
the heart of the city and walking distance
from the Athletes Village will be venues
for volleyball, tennis, squash, cue
sports, cycling, triathlon, weight
lifting, sailing and the popular Indian
sport of kabaddi. Beach volleyball is
expected to take place on an island
located in the middle of Doha Bay while
handball and the mountain biking will be
located south of the city.
The sporting spectacular
will bring unprecedented levels of
exposure to Doha and the city is expected
to benefit from an influx of business and
tourism dollars that will boost its
Qatar is a peninsula
situated halfway along the West Coast of
the Arabian Gulf, but has lived in the
shadows of its more illustrious Gulf
brother, the UAE when it has come to sport
and tourism. All that is set to change as
the emirate prepares to open its doors to
a tourism boom.
It has also been catapulted
into the global spotlight after some of
the world’s top footballers have decided
to head to the tiny state for the 2003-04
season. Gabrielle Batistuta, Mario Basler,
Steffan Effenburg and Ali Bernarbia are
among those to have signed lucrative deals
to play league football in Qatar next
So what is the attraction of Qatar?
The total land area of Qatar is just
11,521 square kilometers – most of which
is predominantly desert. It has a number
of islands, the most important of which
population is about 600,000, half of who
live in the capital city.
After gaining independence
in 1971, the economy has been driven by
its wealth of natural resources, but after
witnessing how important tourism has
become to cities like Dubai and Manama,
Qatar has identified the Asian Games as an
opportunity to showcase its talents to the
Burial cairns at Umm al-Ma, on the western
coast, indicate that people have lived in
Qatar since 4000 BC. The land has been
administered in turn by Canaanite Arab
tribes, Turks, the Khalifa family of
Bahrain and the British (who ruled for 99
years until independence was achieved).
For most of its history, Qatar was known
as a centre of the pearl industry. The
introduction of cultured pearls in the
1930s, however, was the beginning of the
end for Qatar’s pearl workers.
Fortunately, oil was discovered in Qatar
around the same time, and it quickly
replaced pearls as the country’s biggest
source of income.
It is fair to say that current travellers
to Qatar are generally businessmen and
those visiting friends and family. The
country itself hasn’t prepared for
tourism. But nevertheless, it does offer
plenty of attractions to the visitor.
Qatar’s most popular beaches are at Khor
and Jebel Fuwairet (north of Doha) and at
Dukhan (west of the capital). A four
wheel-drive vehicle is required to get to
the undeveloped beaches in the northeast
and southeast. At Umm Said, sand dunes
extend right up to the water’s edge – it
is a beautiful, remote area. Divers and
snorkellers will enjoy the coral reefs
near some of the beaches.
Qatar has a rather limited
selection of souvenirs. Look out for
colorful Sadew woven rugs (a mixture of
camel and goat hair - make sure it doesn’t
smell) and imported items from the Mideast
and the Indian subcontinent. The Family
Bookshop in Doha has a good selection of
English-language literature. For the most
interesting shopping, the Suq Wakif and
Musairab Street in Doha are worth a visit
but be prepared to haggle.
The Asian Games will be held
during the best time weather wise, when
temperatures are at their mildest.
Humidity, however, is very high along the
coast. However, most rain falls during the
winter months in sudden, short but heavy
cloudbursts but it is unlikely to worry
Like so many countries in
the Gulf, Qatar offers a wealth of eating
options to cater for all tastes. Regional
specialties, including kebabs, chicken,
fish, seafood, rice and lamb dishes are in
plentiful supply. The international deluxe
hotels offer a wide range of Continental
and other dishes. Indian, Pakistani and
fast-food restaurants are also common.
Most of the food is cooked fresh, and the
spices seem to kill off lurking bacteria.
Melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and dates are
grown locally and are delicious. For
desserts, look for the flaky pastries
drenched in honey and chopped nuts. Tea
and coffee drinkers will want to try the
local brews. Alcoholic drinks are served
only to hotel guests and in licensed bars.
Overall Qatar, and Doha in
particular, will undergo a complete face
lift over the next three years as this
country, small on land space but huge in
pride, gears up to host one of the biggest
shows on earth.