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Doha Fast Becoming Sports Oasis

Doha has been upping its game, going from desert to sports oasis with a slew of huge sporting events over the last several years. Malka Wickramatilake writes straight from the Qatari capital...

Published February 07, 2014 12:11

Doha Fast Becoming Sports Oasis
Victoria Azarenka, Nasser Al-Khelaifi

DOHA, Qatar - For a small country, Qatar knows how to bring in the big names - Nadal, Williams, Federer, Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo, and Sharapova to name but a few.

The capital city of Doha has become a center for global sports with an ever-increasing number of prominent events filling up the yearly calendar. Within the past two decades, Doha has gone from a one-hotel town to a city boasting a futuristic skyline straight out of Blade Runner.

After making its fortune from the bountiful supplies of oil and liquid gas, the Middle Eastern emirate pumped the cash into developing its sporting identity - hosting superstars and putting on top tier events. Rafael Nadal is the latest champion to benefit from Qatar's love affair with professional tennis. It was first introduced to the Middle East in 1993 when Doha hosted the inaugural ATP event. In 2001, they decided the time was right for the women's pro game to be staged here as well.

The Qatar Total Open has evolved into a WTA Premier 5 tournament with a record prize money of $2,440,070. The event has drawn the biggest names in the game to the desert - including Martina Hingis, Monica Seles, Justine Henin and in recent years, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka.

In 2008, Shahar Peer became the first Israeli athlete to play in a Gulf state when she entered the event, while the WTA Championships were hosted here for three years from 2008, the first time the crown jewel of the WTA was held outside of North America or Europe.

Everything in this region strives to be the biggest, the best, the brightest and the most innovative. Been to Dubai recently? They just set the record for setting off the most fireworks - 500,000 in six minutes. Doha though has aimed for added sparkle by being the global sports hub.

And to be really talked about around the world, Qatar needed to host something truly big. Being awarded the FIFA 2022 World Cup has solidified its place on the international sporting map and this soccer-mad country has already begun offering tantalizing tasters for what lies ahead.

The latest to visit were two of soccer's superheroes in a friendly match last month between Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. It was simply billed as the rematch of Ibrahimovic vs. Ronaldo. Ronaldo won.

PSG also used the opportunity to bring their training camp to Qatar and try to further seal their place amongst local hearts. The opening of a club shop in a local shopping mall didn't do any harm either.

As the importance of sport continues to come to the forefront of Qatari society, the Qatar Olympic Committee is organizing the third annual National Sports Day on February 11. Based on the principles of inclusion and unity, participation and fun, fitness and health, National Sports Day highlights teamwork, togetherness and development - ideals Qatar is promoting across various facets including business, education, finance, culture, tourism and sports.

The country's marketing push to attract big events has certainly paid off in recent years. The 2006 Asian Games raised the profile of that mini-Olympics to new heights, while the IAAF continues to stage the local round of the Diamond League here following on from the Indoor World Championships that were held in the massive aerodrome-like multi-sports arena that is the Aspire Dome.

You can add to that list international events for horse show jumping at the magnificent Al Shaqab equestrian complex, European Tour golf's Commercial Bank Masters, cycling's annual Tour of Qatar plus the forthcoming FINA Swimming World Cup.

The Qatar Total Open 2014 is a pre-eminent tennis event on the global sporting calendar and this year's event sees seven of the Top 10 players participating, including recent Australian Open winner Li Na. Qatar is undoubtedly making its mark on the international sports landscape and when tennis' leading ladies descend on Doha, the world will be watching.

~ Malka Wickramatilake has been the Media Manager for the Qatar Tennis Federation since 2011.

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