Sport 9.12.2013 09.55 pm

World sports leaders meet in Doha

Qatari fans cheer before the start of the 2011 Asian Cup quarter-final football match between Qatar and Japan in the Qatari capital Doha on January 21, 2011
Sports ministers from all over the world have converged on Doha for the Doha Goals summit which kicked off in the Gulf State on Monday.

The closed-door forum sponsored by the Emir of Qatar has also brought together investors, lobbyists and sports personalities.

The question of finance is now fundamental to sports as Brazilians question the amount being spent on the 2014 World Cup while recent Olympics have proved a major drain on national finances.

“Sport should not be seen as a burden, it’s an investment,” Congo sports minister Leo-Alfred Opimbat told AFP however as his country prepares to host the 2015 African Games.

“We see that sport is taking an ever more important role in the budget of States. Funding is of course up to the State but you have to also seek additional finances.”

The three-day forum will also be the world’s leading platform focusing on sport as a force for social and economic change.

The event is being hosted in the Aspire Zone, a huge complex of sports facilities with the most up-to-date technologies.

Wealthy but isolated, Doha has in recent years used sport to spearhead its “soft diplomacy” of investing in European clubs and multiplying bids to host major events.

A nation of just two million people, including 200,000 Qataris, Doha will host the 2015 world handball championships and the 2022 football World Cup. They have yet to host an Olympics, failing to even make the short list for the 2016 and 2020 Games.

But their successes have failed to impress everyone with criticism of work conditions in World Cup venues and doubts about Qatar’s ability to fill stadia.

“We’re going to have sport in empty stadiums, far from the image of the competition that unites the whole country and gets people interested in taking up sports,” one European delegate said on condition of anonymity.

The Doha Goals is also part of a Qatari strategy to soften their image.

“The Qataris have realised that they may have had a too aggressive strategy,” said another delegate.

“This is a mock trial,” replied businessman Richard Attias, Executive Producer of the Doha Goals forum on behalf of local authorities, for whom “sport is part of the development strategy of Qatar.”

Three initiatives are to be formally launched at the forum – the creation of an international sports index on the model of the poverty index, the construction of sports facilities in disadvantaged areas, and production of prosthetics to help disabled children practice sport.

But the outline of these projects is still quite vague, especially the issue of funding.

Money, the lifeblood of sport, is clearly at the heart of debates, with companies and athletes seeking funding.

Such as Greek sailing champion Sophia Bekatorou, a gold medallist in Athens and bronze in Beijing, who is looking for funding for a Masters, in organising sports events, in the historic home of the Olympic movement Ancient Olympia.

“People here have the wealth to support projects. And the Doha Goals is all about sports connecting people,” said Bekatorou. “I am trying to build a bridge, not to take the money and go away with it.”


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