With just days to go before the important vote on which city will host the 2019 IAAF World Championships, Qatar’s schoolchildren participating in the Schools Olympic Program (SOP) are united in their support for Doha’s Bid. The children are excited by the prospect of seeing their athletics heroes from around the world competing in the world’s third largest sports event in Doha in 2019.
The Middle East has never hosted the IAAF World Championships before and this provides a unique opportunity to showcase live athletics to a new region and a new generation, inspiring an increased participation in athletics in Qatar and across the whole of the Middle East. Sixteen-year-old Abdulla al-Kubaisi from the Gulf English School, who is competing in this year’s SOP athletics competition, said:
“I would absolutely love to see the World Athletics Championships come to Doha. It would be amazing to watch athletes like Mutaz Barshim competing in front of a home crowd but also to see all of the best athletes from around the world. This would really inspire me to keep competing in athletics and achieve my dream of representing Qatar in the future. I love athletics and I really enjoy competing in the Schools Olympic program. I hope I will win a medal for my school this year and I hope that Doha will win the 2019 World Championships.”
Doha is bidding against Eugene, USA, and Barcelona, Spain, with the final vote to decide the host city taking place in Monaco on 18th November, following a final presentation from each Bid Committee. The schoolchildren are not the only members of the community to support Doha’s Bid, with over 500,000 people showing their support through Doha 2019’s social media channels.
Qatar’s SOP was founded in 2007 following the success of Kids Athletics, a program which begun in 2003 and saw the Qatar Athletics Federation working in cooperation with schools across Qatar to provide a structured introduction to athletics within normal class time. 1,350 students in 45 schools took part in the first year and by 2007 this had expanded to 3,200 students in 80 schools. This success led to the Qatar Olympic Committee taking over the program, renaming it the Schools Olympic Program and introducing a host of additional sports leading it to become a multisport competition for students aged 5-18. The 2014/2015 school year saw the launch of the eighth edition of the SOP, and the introduction of Taekwondo, bringing the total number of sports in the program to 14, which also includes Para-Athletics. Over 26,000 students from 461 schools participated in last year’s edition.
Speaking about the Schools Olympic Program, Secretary General of the QOC, Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, said:
“The Schools Olympic Program has become a main partner of sport federations and clubs in discovering talented athletes, boys and girls, who will be the future foundation of our various national teams. It is our aim that the Schools Olympic Program will be recognized as an important first step on the sporting pathway.
“The main objective from the Schools Olympic Program was, and will continue to be, to bring up an exceptional generation of athletes who will be aware, cultivated and able to assume responsibility and who will embody the future of sports in Qatar.”
Students participate in competitions throughout the school year, with successful athletes qualifying for the finals held annually in March at the Aspire Dome. The SOP is the first step on Qatar’s sports development pathway and while encouraging sports participation is key, the identification of young Qatari talent is also an important factor of the Program. One such example is 14 year old Dalal al-Ajmi, who has won multiple SOP sprint titles and is now a member of Qatar’s Female National Athletics team and one of their brightest hopes for future World Championship and Olympic success. Speaking about her experience, Dalal said:
“I really enjoyed my experience of representing my school in the Schools Olympic Program. It showed me that I was good at athletics and it’s thanks to the program that I am a part of the National Team today. It also gave me great competition experience that is useful for the international competitions that I am participating in today. It is my dream to be the World and Olympic Champion and the Schools Olympic Program was the first step on my journey to achieving these dreams. My ultimate dream would be to win the World Championships in front of a home crowd in Doha and I really hope that we win the Bid to host the 2019 World Championships.”
Doha 2019 believes that the dream of competing at the IAAF World Championships at home will be the best possible inspiration for this fast-growing community of female athletes in Qatar and across the whole region. The Middle East has never hosted the IAAF World Championships before and with attitudes to women’s sport quickly changing, there is no better time to harness the power of hosting the world’s third largest sporting event and use it as a catalyst for further increased female participation in athletics across the whole of the Middle East.
The IAAF Evaluation Commission visited Doha on 30th and 31st October, during which they saw extensive presentations from the Bid Committee and the Bid’s partners, as well as visiting the key venues that would host the World Championships, including the renowned Khalifa International Stadium which is currently undergoing renovations to make it the most state-of-the-art purpose-built athletics stadium in the world.
The highlight of the IAAF’s visit however was hearing from Doha’s talented young athletes and Bid Ambassadors Mutaz Barshim, Olympic Bronze-medallist and World Indoor Champion, and 16-year-old Mariam Farid, a member of Qatar’s Athletics Team – who embody the unparalleled opportunities presented in Doha’s Bid and are exemplary of the talented young athletes that the SOP aims to identify and support.
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