Sheikh Saoud Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani (QOC)
There is an old adage that ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’ and although Qatar’s sporting journey started long ago with our forefathers, and important steps have been taken along the way, over the last two weeks I believe Qatar has taken a sizeable leap forward.
The journey to glory is certainly not an easy one. It is challenging, and the very nature of sport dictates this. Whether it’s winning a bid, a match, or developing a foundation for future success, there is no easy recipe or magic ingredients. But ultimately for those with the passion, focus and commitment, it can be rewarding as Qatar is experiencing.
We remain humble knowing the journey ahead will be long based on our ambitions but the tangible shift is being felt amongst the people of Qatar as new sporting hopes are realised to become real belief, as a nation continues to evolve from going beyond the tag of a world-class host to also become a serious competitor.
The 15th Men’s Handball World Championships have just concluded in Qatar with France claiming the title for a record fifth time. However, it is the multitude of records that Qatar set throughout this two-week celebration of the very best of handball that will have the greatest impact on our nation and our region.
Inspired by stadiums full of supporters and a nation united by a common desire for Qatar to succeed, the Qatar National Handball team exceeded all expectations to reach the final. In doing so, they became the first Asian team to progress beyond the quarter finals and the first non-European side to reach a World Championship final in the history of the sport. By hosting the World Championships, Qatar became the first-ever Middle Eastern host, only the second-ever Asian host and the first country to hold the entire event in one city.
It was Qatar’s ambition to raise the bar in our organisation of the World Handball Championships and to raise the profile of Handball through our successful staging of the event. We believe that by providing optimal conditions for athletes to compete, their performance will be improved and the sport will be showcased in the best possible light, capturing the imagination of new fans and athletes. Our teams worked hard to ensure the highest possible standards of accommodation, transport and hospitality for all athletes and spectators, as well as state-of-the-art competition and training venues. We were delighted when President of the International Handball Federation, Dr. Hassan Moustafa, declared that it was “the best World Championship ever held.”
By staging the entire event in one city, athletes were able to stay in the same hotel throughout the Championships and travel distances between competition and training venues were minimized, ensuring the athletes were fresh for the most important games of their lives. The compactness of the event also meant that spectators were able to watch more than one session per day, whilst being close to the heart of the city and at the hub of the excitement. This formula resulted in a World Championships with a fantastic atmosphere, creating a buzz for Handball never before seen in Qatar. Our nation was truly gripped by Handball fever and its popularity has surged to new heights.
Qatar Hosted the 2015 World Handball Championships (Getty Images)
It is clear that the phenomenal atmosphere, passionate supporters and optimal conditions allowed for our own team to excel and the whole of our nation could not be more proud of their success. It has been an absolute privilege to watch our nation come together in a shared celebration of world-class sport, and in the process see the realization of a far-sighted and long-term vision for sport in Qatar. The Qatari team’s achievements reflect Qatar’s growing emergence on the world stage of sport. We are no longer simply a host and a participant but a serious competitor at the highest level.
This success did not happen overnight but is the result of many years of hard work, preparation and the implementation of systems that ensure the development of sport at every level. The success is also not an anomaly - the same team won the 2014 Asian Cup and Asian Games and, perhaps more importantly, our youth team won the 2013 Asian Youth Games indicating that this is just the beginning of Qatar’s Handball success. In other sports, our U19 football team won the 2014 Asian Cup, our 3x3 Basketball team won the 2014 World Championships and Mutaz Barshim became 2014 World Indoor Champion in the high jump. A significant number of these athletes are products of Qatar’s sport development systems, including the Schools Olympic Program, which develops sport at a grassroots level, and the Aspire Academy for Sporting Excellence, which identifies and nurtures Qatar’s talented athletes.
Qatar is not only focused on elite performance and is working hard to ensure that our athletes’ success and our hosting of world-class sports events inspire greater community participation. In addition to promoting the Olympic values and encouraging greater participation through the Schools Olympic Program, Qatar will be holding the fourth edition of its annual National Sport Day on 10th February. Qatar is one of the few countries in the world to have a public holiday dedicated to sports, with the objective of encouraging the nation to come together in a celebration of sport that will promote an active and healthy lifestyle and inspire increased and regular participation in physical activity.
It is now absolutely vital that Qatar does not rest on its laurels but that we use the success of our Handball team and of our hosting of the World Championships as a catalyst for the further success and development of sport across the whole of the Middle East, ensuring a strong lasting legacy from the last two exhilarating weeks. Qatar is committed to the growth and development of handball to ensure that it has an even more exciting future, and we will use the momentum that has been gained to further engage the region, creating new fans, new players, new coaches and new administrators.
Qatar’s commitment to the global development of sport will continue further over the coming years as we host a multitude of world-class sports events, which include 2015 World Championships in Boxing and IPC Athletics, as well as the 2018 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships and 2019 IAAF World Championships in Athletics. We will apply the same dedication to each and every event that we host, building on the foundations that have already been laid and further progressing our programmes and initiatives to increase participation levels at a community level, empower more young females to reach their potential, create more sporting heroes and enable sport to prosper and grow across our region.
We are at just the start of our sporting journey and we will look forward to witnessing the impact of the power of sport for many generations to come.
Written by Sheikh Saoud Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Secretary General, Qatar Olympic Committee
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