As we draw breath following the conclusion of last week’s awe-inspiring FINA World Swimming Championships, I have been reflecting with the utmost pride on how far our nation has progressed in 2014 towards achieving our vision of becoming a leader in bringing the world together through sustainable sport development.
Qatar aims to raise the bar in everything that we organise and we are delighted that the 12th FINA World Swimming Championships have been widely recognised as the greatest in history, with FINA stating that they were “super satisfied” about our staging of the event. More world records and championship records were broken than at any previous World Championships (25m), more swimmers and nations participated than ever before, and Doha became the first host in history to introduce a “Youth Programme”. Our teams worked hard to create the best possible conditions for the competitors, and daily capacity crowds provided an electric atmosphere, enabling the athletes to excel and future swimming heroes to be inspired by the excitement that they witnessed.
Whilst sporting history was made in Doha last week, we are absolutely committed to ensuring that this history marks the start of an exciting future for the development of swimming in Qatar, the region and globally. Hosting the FINA World Championships in Doha provided a platform to showcase the excitement of world-class swimming to the youth of our nation and our region, inspiring greater participation, creating new heroes and taking swimming to a new height in the Middle East. In addition, our hosting of the FINA World Aquatics Convention directly before the World Championships brought together the most important figures in world aquatics to debate the future of the sport, and our hosting of the first ever Youth Programme brought together more than 350 young swimmers and their coaches and exposed them to a wealth of invaluable knowledge and opportunity that will better equip them for their future journeys in the sport. I believe that we delivered an exceptional World Championships that will undoubtedly leave a lasting legacy for the sport. This event showcased exactly what Qatar is capable of and further enhanced our international reputation as a successful host of major sporting events.
It is thanks to this proven capability and rising international reputation that more and more international sports federations are placing their trust in Doha to host their flagship events. Just last month, Doha won its bid to host the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Athletics, beating Eugene, the USA’s home of track and field, and Spanish capital, Barcelona, in a very closely fought battle. The IAAF World Championships are the world’s third largest sports event and winning this bid was a very proud moment in Qatar’s history. The IAAF recognised the opportunity that hosting the World Championships in the Middle East for the first time in history will bring to the development of athletics across our region, and it was our two young female Ambassadors, 16 year old Mariam Farid, and 15 year old Dalal Al Ajmi that really brought this point home. I was so proud and so humbled by Mariam and Dalal’s determination to become trailblazers for female athletics participation in our region, and by their ambition to inspire more young girls to fulfil their dreams.
President of the IAAF, Lamine Diack, said, “I'm sure that in Doha we will have a wonderful edition of the World Championships. I'm convinced they are committed to sport and they are doing the right things and it will continue like that.” It will be an honour to work in partnership with the IAAF to deliver the greatest ever World Championships, to help realise the potential of global athletics and to cement a true legacy for the sport.
To further add to Qatar’s sporting success in 2014, Doha also won the rights to host the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships and the 2018 Artistic World Gymnastics Championships, increasing the growing list of World Championship events that Doha will host over the next few years - which already includes Handball, Boxing, Road Cycling, Bowling and Football, in addition to a vast array of continental and regional events, and annual fixtures on the sporting calendar such as Diamond League Athletics, ATP Tennis and Masters Golf.
Hosting world-class sports events is an incredibly powerful tool in the building of a healthy and cohesive society and this is why it is a fundamental part of our National Development Strategy. There is no better way to develop our people, provide new skills, educate through the values of sport and promote active and healthy lifestyles. They also have huge economic opportunities through increased tourism, business opportunities and employment opportunities, as well as forging global friendships and improving relations with countries around the world. Most importantly, sport inspires. Young people across our nation and our region will be inspired by the live sporting action that they witness, they will inspired to emulate their heroes and inspired by the power of sport. More young people will be connected to sport at a grassroots level, more young females will be empowered to reach their potential and more sporting heroes will be created for generations to come.
Qatar is already seeing the effects of our commitment to developing sport and 2014 was our most successful year ever on the sporting field. Whilst there are far too many achievements to list here, there are some particular highlights: our very own Mutaz Barshim became World Indoor Champion, IAAF Diamond Race winner, retained his Asian Games title and achieved the second highest jump in the history of the high jump; his younger teammate, Ashraf Elseify, retained his IAAF World Junior title in the hammer throw; Team Qatar achieved a total of 14 medals at this year’s Asian Games, 10 of which were gold - our largest haul ever; Yaseen Musa captained Qatar to a historic FIBA 3x3 World Championship title; we made football history by winning the U19 Asian Football Cup, captained by Ahmad Moein who won the “Most Valuable Player” title and was subsequently named as “AFC Young Player of the Year 2014” and, most recently, the whole nation celebrated together as Qatar won the Gulf Cup for the third time, captained by football hero, Meshal Abdullah.
A significant number of the athletes involved in these victories are products of Qatar’s sport development programmes, including the Schools Olympic Program and the Aspire Academy for Sporting Excellence, which continue to go from strength to strength each year. In 2014, 26,000 students from 461 schools took part in the Schools Olympic Program (SOP) and 23 Aspire Academy students represented Qatar on the international stage. The number of sports included in the SOP has risen to 14 in the current school year to reflect the hunger and appetite for a wide variety of sport amongst our schoolchildren. As I look back on the most successful year ever for the SOP, I also look forward to the 2015 finals and what I know will be the highest standard of competition yet, as Qatar’s latest sporting heroes provide inspiration for the children to shine. Our processes and formulae are already starting to bear fruit but hosting world-class sports events will have a catalytic effect on the progress and development of these programmes, which are still in their infancy. If these are the levels of success that Qatar’s athletes are already achieving, imagine our potential for the future.
We are a nation with sport in our hearts and I have been more honoured than ever this year to watch our nation unite behind our shared passion, supporting our ambitions for the future as we bid for global sports events, warmly welcoming the world to our shores in these global celebrations of sport, and getting behind our nation’s athletes as they strive to raise the bar for Qatari sporting success.
As we approach National Day, this is a timely moment to reflect on what we have accomplished in 2014. It is a time to celebrate our nation’s success and share pride in everything that we have achieved. Qatar is a young country with big ambitions and we can be proud of the part that sport is playing in helping us achieve those ambitions.
Thank you for the role that you have played in Qatar’s sporting journey and I look forward to sharing another exciting year with you in 2015, in what will mark Qatar’s biggest year for hosting sport yet.
His Excellency Sheikh Saoud Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani
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