HEROIC EFFORTS

Qatar 2014 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY
 talks to HE Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Secretary General and CEO of the Qatar Olympic Committee, on Qatar's high-level sport participation, the role of women athletes, and hosting major international events.

What is the history of the Qatari Olympic Committee?

The Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC) was founded on March 14, 1979. The first participation of Qatar was at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada, where Qatar was represented by an administrative delegation. In 1980, the QOC officially joined the International Olympic Committee (IOC) followed by our first participation in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles by our football and athletics teams. Since then, Qatar has participated in various Olympic Games, as well as at continental and regional games. Until now, Qatar has won four medals at the Olympic Games. London 2012 also represented the first time that Qatar sent female athletes to participate.

What other initiatives are being made to encourage women to participate in sport?

Female participation has always been strongly encouraged in Qatar, and we are fully committed to supporting the universal movement in promoting women's participation in sport by establishing the Qatar Women's Sports Committee. Since its inception in 2001, programs and initiatives to promote women's participation in sports have been carefully planned and implemented, and we have noted a significant increase in the number of women that participate in these programs as well as consider sport as a professional career. In the past, the Qatar delegation has been represented by female athletes at regional and international events such as the 2006 Asian Games, the West Asian Games, the 2011 Arab Games, and the 2012 London Olympics, to mention a few. We are certain that these athletes inspired others to get involved in sport activities, and soon we will have more women who will consider sport on a professional basis.

“We have developed a 10-year sport event strategy that includes bids on major sport events."

How have initiatives such as National Sport Day propagated a deeper understanding of sport among the local community?

In 2012, declaring February 2 as National Sport Day through an Emiri Decree implied a very strong message regarding the government's support for social development, mandating citizens, organizations, companies, and the authorities to practice sport. We have witnessed a tremendous increase in participation by the citizens in 2013 and an encouraging rise in the level of awareness in sport. We have also witnessed the collective engagement of all national federations, sports organizations, public authorities, and private companies in conducting a number of programs, activities, and initiatives. Awareness and engagement has been remarkable, with an even more promising involvement of the public in sport activities following the National Sport Day events.

What efforts is the QOC focusing on in order to promote sport amongst the Qatari youth?

We have identified several initiatives and strategies to carry out our mission of promoting sport among the Qatari youth. We created the Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence with special sport programs supervised by some of the best experts in the world to discover talented individuals and elevate their performance. We adapt the “Sport for All" approach in developing world-class sporting facilities like the Al Farjan Playgrounds. In cooperation with Qatar Museums Authority, a dedicated Olympic and Sports Museum will open its gates in the coming years, while temporary exhibitions related to the Olympics and sport have already started with a satisfactory social impact. This will enable our youth to appreciate the history of sport. Also, we have our successful national program that involves all schools in Qatar—the Schools Olympic Program. In this program, Qatari youth and other students take part annually for six months through sport competitions in individual and team sports.

How has the sporting environment evolved over the past few years?

We have seen the sporting environment rapidly evolving in Qatar. We have hosted a number of major sporting events including the 2006 Asian Games, the 2011 Arab Games, and other international sporting events. This has had a great impact on the development of our sport industry and the society at large. This year we have registered a record of 81 sport events, with 50% being at an international level. A number of major events bids have been successful and we are looking forward to their organization.

What other international sporting events are you planning to host in the coming years?

We have developed a 10-year sport event strategy that includes bids on major sport events based on carefully selected criteria. Based on this plan we are proceeding with bids in coordination with the local federations and in cooperation with other partner organizations. We managed to successfully secure the rights to host major sport events, namely the 2014 FINA Swimming World Championships (25 meters), the 2015 IHF Men's World Handball Championships, the 2015 World Boxing Championships, and the 2016 UCI World Road Cycling Championships. Currently, we are preparing the infrastructure for the 2015 IHF World Championships and other requirements are in progress as planned.

What role does sport play in putting Qatar on the world map?

Sport plays an essential part in putting Qatar on the world map as it aims to become a global sporting hub. Winning the rights to host several international world-class events has certainly reinforced our commitment toward sport on a global scale.

Moving forward, what are the medium-term strategic plans and initiatives that the QOC is focusing on?

We are currently on track with the implementation phase of the 2011- 2016 Sport Sector Strategy, which form part of the 2030 National Vision. We are paying attention to our grassroots programs in order to nurture sporting talent. Also, we are focusing on elite sports and in securing the rights to host major sporting events. We will continuously review and evaluate our current programs through a centralized plan that takes care of sport at all levels.

© The Business Year - January 2014