DOHA, February 10, 2016 – At first they were ’almost’ and then they were ’not at all’. They moved towards ’maybe in the future’ and as of today Qatar and the Olympic Games are officially on again: Qatar will once make a bid, maybe as soon as for the 2028 Games, according to Dr Thani Al Kuwari, Secretary-General of the QOC.Since the two last parted ways, when Qatar withdrew from the 2020 Olympics bid, the Gulf state has undertaken a range of post break up improvements, not just in the form of infrastructural development, but perhaps even more interesting also moved towards a change of mentality around sports amongst its citizens. It was in 2011 when the National Sports Day, a public holiday in Qatar, was introduced, to improve the health of the population, which at the time faced a 39% obesity rate amongst those from Qatar. Another scope was to engage the population in sport activities.
State of the art training facilities
However, one thing is exercise, another is elite sport. The naturalization of athletes in Qatar is well documented, the men’s handball team for the 2015 World Championship, which essentially consisted of naturalized players, being the prime example. But as AIPS members visited Qatar’s Aspire Dome it seems that the Qatar could indeed be represented by athletes from within its’ own boarders in the future. More than 80% of the students in the Aspire Academy’s football programme are from Qatar.
“Qatar deserves the best” a range of adds on construction sites stated, as the AIPS congregation drove towards the dome. And the facilities the kids have at their disposal at the Aspire Academy are state of the art. The Aspire Sports City is the biggest in the world, sporting 15 football fields amongst its many attributes. At the football academy boys are singled out around the age of 8, to become a part of “Aspire Feeder Group”, from which they can join the academy at age 12.
Football is a sport, which historically has been close to the Qatari’s hearts, Mubarak Mohammad AlBoanin, Sports Press Committee member at the Qatar Olympic Committee points out. Hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022, another pearl on the string of mega sport events being hosted by Qatar, counting the World Championships in swimming in 2013 and handball 2015 and the upcoming athletics, thus seems natural.
AlBoanin told AIPS that all together, these events are pieces which naturally to lead to a new goal: to get the Games.
Women out of sight at Aspire Academy
At the Aspire Dome, female athletes had asked to be sheltered from view of the AIPS visitors, as they were not wearing their religious clothes during their workout on National Sports Day. But this day is not the only time women are out of sight at Aspire Academy.The Aspire Academy, which is government funded, was founded ten years ago, but despite their wide variety of fitness offers for girls and women, the football programme is still for boys only, despite both men and women playing sport in Qatar.
“It is a great question,” said AlBoanin, who points towards the national teams as a platform for female footballers in the country.In the most recent Sport Sector Strategy report from 2011 made by the Qatar Olympic Committee, 50% of men and 60% of women were leading an inactive lifestyle. Amongst those who were active, 58% pointed to walking as their main physical activity. A study from 2009 stated, that just 15% of women aged 15 or above regularly participated in sport. Could they lack role models in competitive sports?
“The problem is: sometimes in every organisation, you need to attract people,” said AlBoanin, who points out sports such as chess and athletics as sports, where Qatari female athletes are enjoying success.Despite the trouble to attract girls and women, they must still wait to join to join the Aspire Academy, though the Aspire website states, that they are looking to establish one. So while Qatar resumes its stormy relationships with the Olympics, the relationship status of women and elite sports at the Aspire Academy are still at the ‘maybe in the future'.