SOME memories are unforgettable and they remain ever vivid, lasting for a lifetime. Ten years have passed since Doha hosted the Asian Games. It was on December 1, 2006, that the then Emir HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani declared the Games open, welcoming the world to Qatar. Doha had promised ‘The Games of Your Life’ and when curtains came down after a fortnight, it turned out to be a milestone for the country.
Today when we look back, we realise how significant it was for Qatar to have organised such a huge event. It has left many legacies and its successful conduct has emboldened a small country to bid for bigger tournaments. Doha has emerged as Asia’s sports capital, hosting several international competitions and thereby winning the world’s confidence.
“It was our flawless organisation of the 2006 Asian Games that earned us the world’s trust, subsequently leading to our successful bids for many global events. In more ways than one, it was a milestone in Qatar’s history,” said Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who had a long stint as the secretary general of Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC).
In an exclusive interview with Doha Stadium Plus, Sheikh Saoud, Qatar’s ambassador-designate to Germany, recollected his memorable moments of the Doha Asian Games.
“To me, one of the lasting images is HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani lighting the torch,” said Sheikh Saoud.
True, we all remember that night. Doha had not seen any real rain in the preceding two or three years, but against all expectations it started raining cats and dogs in the evening, raising huge doubts in the minds of many about the fate of the Opening Ceremony.
The sudden deluge, hours before the scheduled start, left the stands and the infield at the Khalifa International Stadium quite wet. But it did not dampen the spirit of the people. And, as if it was a divine intervention, the rain stopped just in time for the ceremony to start.
What followed was spectacular entertainment for a packed stadium. From the entry of ‘Desert Horse Riders’ to the ‘Lighting of Torch’, each and every item in the programme produced magical moments.
“The daredevil act of lighting the torch, riding a horse to the top of a 26-degree steep ramp, almost 15M above the ground, has never been seen anywhere in the world. There was a moment when our hearts skipped a beat as Malibu (the horse), almost lost his footing. But a courageous Sheikh Mohammed pushed the horse forward to a thunderous applause from the crowd. His ability to steer the horse to its final destination reflected our tradition, bravery and commitment. To me, this is the most memorable moment of the Doha Asian Games,” reminisced Sheikh Saoud.
“The torch symbolised a beacon of light, guiding our country and the continent to a bright future. Like HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who was the Heir Apparent then, said, it was ‘just the beginning of an eventful journey’. When you look back, you’ll realise how prophetic his words were. We’ve come a long way from 2006. Since then, we’ve hosted quite a few world championships in different disciplines and are gearing up for some of the world’s showpiece competitions in the coming years,” he added.
Elaborating on why he considered Asian Games as one of the most important events, Sheikh Saoud said it laid a strong foundation for Qatar’s huge progress in the world of sports.
“Thanks to Asian Games, we’ve the knowhow and a team of experienced personnel. This is one of the important soft legacies. And when it comes to hard legacies, we’ve several world-class infrastructure. When you put these two together, we’re now confident and capable of hosting any major event in the world,” he said.
“And look at the series of big events we hosted after the Asiad. We’ve been able to win the confidence of all international federations. Any time we bid, we’ve their trust,” he added.
The former top QOC official said he attached much significance to the Doha Asian Games for other reasons too.
“As I mentioned earlier, it was a landmark event for us in many ways. We won a record number of medals (32), our highest tally in history. And our women won their first-ever medal, a bronze by the shooting team, which I consider is path-breaking,” he said.
Sheikh Saoud also pointed out that the Asian Games spurred the QOC on to come out with creative and futuristic plans and concepts like Schools Olympic Programme, National Sports Day, Olympic Academy and also setting up the Anti-Doping Laboratory, all with the unstinted support of the country’s wise leadership.