Doha sprucing up

For hosts Qatar, the ASIAN GAMES in December is not a mere dream; it is an event for showcasing the country to the world at large. The country is also aiming for hitherto uncharted frontiers of sporting excellence, and building infrastructure that will surpass the best available in the world in every discipline, writes S. THYAGARAJAN.

There is a touch of rhetoric in the punch line coined to project the 15th Asian Games at Doha: `Games of your Life'. For hosts Qatar, the Asian Games is not a mere dream; it is an event for showcasing the country to the world at large. The country can hardly wait for the Asian Games to come alive from December 1 to 15, 2006.

There is also a sporting incentive for Qatar from the Asian Games. The country is aiming for hitherto uncharted frontiers of sporting excellence, and building infrastructure that will surpass the best available in the world in every discipline.

For the first time, the Asian Games will include 39 disciplines. Triathlon and chess will enter the fold in Qatar. Doha 2006 means so much more to Qatar. "It is about our sense of belonging and position in the world. It is about Qatar's community, culture and environment of which we are proud," writes H. H. Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, President of Qatar Olympic Committee and Chairman of the Board of the Doha Asian Games Organising Committee (DAGOC).

Is Doha ready? Yes. A recent visit to the city and a glimpse of its sports infrastructure presented a fascinating insight. Some sceptics misread the quality and quantity of work to the point of raising apprehensions whether the Games would have to be shifted. But the Qataris have decimated such misgivings. There has been a palpable acceleration of work. A majority of the venues were even put to test during the recent West Asia Games.

Everything is moving with clock-like precision. Giant cranes, bull-dozers and a huge task force are at work enlarging the airport, providing finishing touches to the Athletes and Media Villages and the Games venues. The deadline for the work is set for September. But the fervour with which work is going on is enough to convince people that everything will be in place before that. A few venues would even be put to test before the Games by staging an international event or two.

The nerve centre of the Asian Games will be the Sport City, the cynosure both for its architectural splendour and the state-of-the-art facilities. The Aspire indoor arena, which has seven segments of air-conditioned halls with a minimum seating capacity of 1000 spectators, will host badminton, wushu, gymnastics, weightlifting, kabaddi and boxing.

Meticulous work has gone into identifying the disciplines to be held, says Charles Quelch, Head of Operations. Quelch, an Englishman who was connected with infrastructure management at the Sydney 2000 and the Commonwealth Games at Manchester in 2002, is lending his expertise to the DAGOC.

An eye-catching landmark in the Sport City is the majestic 50,000-seater Khalifa Stadium that will host the opening and closing ceremonies, athletics events and the football final. The Sport City also accommodates venues for basketball and aquatics. About a dozen disciplines out of the 39 will be staged in this area. Another imposing facility is the Al-Saad Sports Club complex modelled on Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium. Football is a sport close to the heart of the Qataris, who entertain a bevy of Brazilian stars in their national league.

A close scrutiny of facilities convinces one that nothing is left to chance in planning for the mega event, which is likely to cost around four billion US dollars. The huge volunteer force of 16,000 is entrusted with the task of ensuring a perfectly organised first-ever sporting extravaganza in the region. The Asian Games will feature as many as 10,500 competitors from 45 countries in 423 events.

Leaving the Sport City, gleaming in the heat of a typical desert afternoon, there is a sense of fulfilment of having viewed what possibly is emerging as the finest theatre of sporting excellence in the Gulf. Doha, undeniably, is emerging as the hub of Asian sports.