Qatar seeks lasting legacy from Asian Games, perhaps an Olympic bid
DOHA, Qatar -- One glance at the skyline, dominated by cranes and gleaming new skyscrapers, leaves little doubt this oil-rich nation has big plans.
It's even thinking of an Olympics.
Doha was once a British administrative outpost that became Qatar's capital in the 19th century, when the country was home primarily to Bedouin tribes and coastal fishermen.
That was before oil was discovered.
In the past few years, Qatar has held a host of major sports events, including the $2 million Doha Masters golf tournament, tennis' ATP Doha Open, the superbike world championship and track and field meets.
The Asian Games that open here Friday -- featuring more than 10,500 athletes and officials from 45 nations competing in 39 sports -- easily are Doha's biggest undertaking. But sports officials in Qatar consider them just the beginning.
The Qatar Olympic Committee has revealed plans to bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics when the IOC opens the application process next year.
Qatar will face stiff competition, including Madrid, Spain; New Delhi; Prague, Czech Republic; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Rome, and Tokyo. The United States might enter Chicago or Los Angeles.
"The world is beginning to grow weary of seeing the major sporting tournaments being organized by the big countries," QOC secretary general Shiekh Saoud bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani said at a news conference earlier this month.
"The rest of the world thought that Qatar, with only 200,000 nationals, could not organize the Asian Games, but we have proved them wrong," Al Thani said. "We believe that the success of such a project is not based on the population of a country, but on its ability."
Qatar, with a population of less than 800,000 made up mostly of expatriate foreign workers, clearly is a long shot to host an Olympics. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in resources.
Qatar spent $2.8 billion on preparing venues for the Asian Games, including a major upgrade to the 50,000-seat Khalifa Stadium and the construction of an indoor sports complex, the world's largest indoor multisports dome.
"When we started planning, we knew we had to organize the games to a very high standard," said Ahmed Abdulla Al Khulaifi, deputy director general of the Doha Asian Games organizing committee. "We had to do it to an Olympic standard. We know there are a lot of challenges, but we also know we can very easily accept those challenges and we can fulfill them."
Doubts were cast about Doha's ability to hold a major event after a U.S. State Department fact sheet warned travelers of possible shortages of beds, flights, food and strained medical facilities during the Asian Games.
"It's not a logical statement," Al Khulaifi said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. "They talked about the accommodation, but we don't have any problems, we don't have any pressures. We are receiving every day more than 1,000 athletes, team officials or media people. We don't have any issues."
Al Khulaifi said that in many ways, it is more difficult to organize the Asian Games than an Olympics.
"We actually have bigger numbers of sports to cater for -- we have 39 and they have 28," he said. "In terms of the athletes, we have more, because at the Asian Games there is no qualification, so any NOC (National Olympic Committee) can send any athletes they wish to compete.
"I think with the infrastructure we have put in place, and the infrastructure here in Doha, we think it would be very easy to host (the Olympics)."
The Asian Games will leave a valuable sports legacy for Qatar.
Perhaps the most impressive of the venues constructed for the event is the ASPIRE complex, featuring seven indoor halls. The venue also houses a 6,000-seat soccer stadium and Olympic-size swimming and diving pools.
After the Asian Games, the facility will be used primarily by a sports academy that began in 2004 to identify young athletes in the region.
"It's very easy to build a venue," Al Khulaifi said. "But we have to plan for maintenance for not just 10 years, but 20 or 30 years."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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