The Capital of Sport
Written by Kate Lord Brown
Ever since the success of the 2006 Asian Games, Qatar’s reputation has been growing as the land that brings the world of sport together.
2015 has been another spectacular year for sport in Qatar. As the host this year of a series of international contests, notably the IHF Handball Championships, the IPC Athletics World Championships and the AIBA World Amateur Boxing Championships, Qatar has welcomed athletes from the world over. “Sport in Qatar is an ever-growing industry,” says Karen Porter, fitness trainer (bodyandhealthbydesign.com). “I have been involved in fitness and health for almost 20 years and seeing the growth in Qatar has been an exciting journey.” October’s IPC Athletics World Championships were held in the 15,000-capacity Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium, home of the Qatar Sports Club. Aspetar, the first specialist orthopaedic and sports medicine hospital in the region played a vital role in supporting the para-athletes. Its state-of-the-art facilities and treatments have attracted leading athletes from around the world, including Mo Farah.
Qatar has invested US$2.8 billion in the infrastructure to support sporting competitions, and nowhere is more impressive than the 240 hectares of Aspire Zone’s Sports City. A special feature of the development is Aspire Academy, which is training young athletes for future sports excellence. “I love seeing the organisations grow,” Porter says, “providing an outlet for children and adults to try or see sports that have never before been available to them.” Visitors can enjoy athletics, basketball, handball, volleyball, drag and powerboat racing, through to the traditional Arabian sports of falconry, horse racing, and camel racing at Al Shahaniya. There are world-class health and leisure facilities, but during the cooler winter months it is the perfect chance to try Qatar’s outdoor sports. From the desert, where you can experience sand-skiing and boarding, to the shimmering turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf where visitors can enjoy everything from paddle-boarding to pearl-diving, Qatar is a great destination for keen sportsmen and women.
Talking to sports professionals in the country, one word keeps coming up: opportunity. “Living in Qatar for over nine years, I’ve seen dramatic changes in the sporting landscape,” says Ali Longmate, founder of Ali Fit Club (alifitclub.com). “I’ve had some amazing experiences and great sporting opportunities in Qatar. Personal highlights include organising for the double Olympic Champion, Dame Kelly Holmes, to visit schools, having an instrumental role in encouraging mass participation in the ‘Doha Dash’ for Qatar National Sports Day, and competing in the Tower Running World Championships at the Torch. Add to this watching world-class athletes at the Athletics Diamond League, the Tennis and Golf Opens and top-level football – there really is something for everyone here in Qatar.”
Of all sports, football is the most widely played and enjoyed in Qatar. Al Sadd is the most popular club, and the national team celebrated winning the Gulf Cup for the third time this year. In 2022, Qatar will be the first Arab state to host the FIFA World Cup, and preparations are already under way, with several of the stadiums under construction. The event will bring together athletes and sports fans from across the globe. “The Qatar Stars League really is that with names like Raúl, Michael Laudrup, Gianfranco Zola, and Xavi Hernández coming to play in Qatar over the last three years,” says Rhodri Williams of Al Kass Sports Channels (cdn.alkass.net). “We’ve had the privilege to cover the league in English to bring the excitement to a wider audience. Football can now be called the global game.”
Sport is at the heart of Qatar’s society and each year, the second Tuesday of February is Sports Day, a national holiday when people are encouraged to exercise. The Qatar Olympic Committee oversees the 150 sports facilities and federations in the country. See www.olympic.qa for more news and information about sport in Qatar.