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Posted On: 17 December 2017 03:25 pm
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:18 pm

H.E. Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad Al Thani: Is the unifying power of sport now more important than ever?


Each year, Qatar National Day provides a wonderful opportunity for us all to reflect on our nation’s progress and come together to celebrate the achievements and inspirational spirit of our people and our country. This year, it feels more poignant than ever to take this moment to reflect and commemorate our journey and how far we have come together.

Over recent months, I have been incredibly humbled by how our nation has united through a shared pride and love for Qatar. We are an ambitious and optimistic nation, driven forward by our solidarity and the strength and ability of our people to achieve the very best for our country. His Highness the Emir of Qatar has outlined that this year’s National Day will represent the ‘promise of prosperity and glory’ and from what I have witnessed of all residents of Qatar, I am more confident than ever that, together, we will achieve a bright and prosperous future.

For me, sport transcends everything that this year’s National Day celebrations epitomise and it is for this reason that sport is at the heart of our nation’s future development plans. Sport showcases the very best of humanity and it inspires humanity to give the very best version of itself. It inspires us all to push our boundaries, breakdown barriers and set our goals higher. It brings together different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs and promotes inclusivity, diversity and respect. Sport is an incredibly powerful tool to guide the aspirations, hopes and dreams of our young people.

This is why I love sport so much and this is why we launched our new ‘Team Qatar’ brand and strategy earlier this year, which embodies the shared values of our nation and of sport. Every day our own athletes are striving to better themselves and to make Qatar proud. They show what can be achieved through hard work, determination, self-belief and fair play. There are no better role models for our young people and, through our new brand, we are determined to place a greater focus on our heroes, sharing their stories, showcasing their journeys, and inspiring our nation through their incredible achievements. Our athletes are constantly flying Qatar’s flag high and it is our ambition to unite our nation in pride through Team Qatar.

It was with this vision in mind that we organised this year’s National Day Team Qatar flag relay. Over 400 athletes, schoolchildren, sports fans and inspirational individuals representing the diversity of Qatar carried the flag 200km across our country and its most iconic landmarks, transporting it via a wide-variety of sporting activities including running, cycling, rowing, sailing, wheelchair racing and more, before culminating in a unifying celebration at the heart of Qatar’s National Day festivities, Darb Al Saii. The Team Qatar flag relay was a wonderful occasion that showcased the very best of our nation and its people, whilst transmitting a message of peace, friendship and solidarity, spreading the Olympic values and uniting everyone through Team Qatar.

Our National Day celebrations also recognised the outstanding achievements of our athletes on the world stage throughout the past year, and it is the diversity of these achievements that has made me most proud. In May, Al-Dana Al-Mubarak became our first female athlete to win a gold medal at the Islamic Solidarity Games as she claimed the 25m pistol shooting title, whilst team-mate Kholood Al-Khalaf won bronze in the mixed team trap shooting, reflecting the strength and exciting future potential of our young female shooting team. In June, 19-year-old Fares Ibrahim was crowned World Junior Champion in weightlifting, adding to his 2016 Asian Games title and seventh placing at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Our prodigious talent continued his strong form by claiming a silver medal in the Clean & Jerk in his first senior World Championships in early December and as the youngest weightlifter in the competition, proving once again that he will be one of the key weightlifters to watch at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. In July, our para-athletes made further history at the London 2017 World Championships. Abdelrahman Abdelqader became Qatar’s first-ever Para-Athletics World Champion with gold in the T34 shot put, and Sara Masoud, who last year became Qatar’s first-ever global female medallist with Paralympic silver at Rio 2016, added another silver medal to her collection, also in the T34 shot put. Just a few weeks later in the same London Stadium, 20-year-old Abdelalah Haroun built on his 2016 World Youth Championship gold medal to claim a senior World Championship bronze medal in a strong 400m final. In September, our young equestrian athlete, Hamad Al Attiyah, shone at the Ashgabat 2017 Asian Martial Arts and Indoor Games as he won Qatar’s first gold in the individual show jumping, adding another victory to our equestrian team’s recent accolades.

However, the highlight of the year for Qatari sport was created once again by our sporting legend, Mutaz Barshim. Following another outstanding season where he became World Champion, won the Diamond League Trophy, became the first high-jumper to be undefeated in an entire season since 2004 and jumped over 2.40m for the fifth consecutive year, and received ANOC’s Award for best athlete in Asia in 2017, Mutaz concluded the year by winning the prestigious IAAF World Athlete of the Year title, taking the crown from Usain Bolt. In doing so, Mutaz became the first high-jumper and the first athlete from our region to win the award. Mutaz is a truly deserved winner and we could not be prouder of him for demonstrating what can be achieved through dedication and determination, and for consistently flying the flag high for Qatar. He is humble, hardworking and an inspirational role model to young people in Qatar and around the world.

The Qatar Olympic Committee is committed to building on these achievements and ensuring that our development systems continue to produce more and more Qatari champions. In October this year, we successfully rolled out the first stage of Kun Riyadi, our Athlete Development Pathway that has the objective to identify, nurture and develop talent at every stage of an athlete’s career. The first stage focuses on early childhood, encouraging active play and exploration for 0-7 year olds to help them develop motor skills that will become effective later in life. The launch was a huge success and it was a pleasure to simply see how much fun and enjoyment the children got from participating in the sporting activities. I’ve no doubt that a future Mutaz Barshim was amongst them!

Another significant opportunity to inspire future sporting heroes will be through our upcoming World Championships. This year, as part of momentous handover ceremonies, we had the honour to receive the flags for the FIG Artistic Gymnastics and IAAF Athletics World Championships, which Doha is hosting in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Both events will be staged in the Middle East for the first time in their histories and bring with them a unique chance to showcase the very best of each sport to new audiences, capture the attention of new generations of athletes, and inspire our young people to participate in sport at any level. We are incredibly honoured and excited to host these events and progress is very much on track, continuing unaffected by the current political situation.

Most importantly, we are committed to hosting these events to the highest possible level, continuing to show the world what Qatar is capable of and creating a unique and memorable experience for everyone that participates – whether that be spectators, athletes, coaches, officials, media, volunteers and more. We firmly believe in the power of sport to unite, inspire and transform lives in Qatar and around the world. This is exactly what the Olympic spirit is all about and this is the fundamental ethos of Team Qatar.

Joaan Bin Hamad Al Thani

President, Qatar Olympic Committee