DOHA (VN) — The Ladies Tour of Qatar, starting Tuesday, is strengthening the oil-rich state’s push to host the first Olympics in the Middle East.
“In Qatar, we aim to promote all the sports, especially those in the Summer Olympics,” said Khalid Bin Ali Al Thani, president of the country’s cycling federation.
“We hope to promote as many sports as we can.”
The president’s white keffiyeh and throb contrast with the bright and tight lycra kits that 90 women will wear when the seventh edition of the Ladies Tour of Qatar pushes off from the Museum of Islamic Art. Sheikh Khalid and the state, however, gladly support the race because it sits well with the country’s dream of hosting the Olympics.
Doha already bid, and lost, for the 2016 and 2020 Games. It is now aiming at 2024. There is every indication that it is on track to win selection as a candidate city or even as the eventual host city.
The capital city, where 90 percent of the 2.2 million people live, is growing quickly thanks to its petroleum and natural gas resources. Part of its money is poured into sport as a means to build Qatar’s status in the Gulf and globally.
It is succeeding. Doha may have failed at its Olympic bids so far, but it has bagged one of sport’s big jewels: the 2022 soccer World Cup. And Sheikh Khalid convinced the UCI to bring its world championship races to the Middle East in Doha for the first time in 2016. It also has the World Athletics Championships on the horizon in 2019.
Those events are supported by several other smaller championships. Sunday night, France beat Qatar in Doha to win the handball world title. Last year, Doha hosted the short-course World Swimming Championships. The boxing championships are later in 2015.
The championships and races like the Tour of Qatar, which share the Olympic Charter of promoting and encouraging women in sport, provide ammunition for the 2024 Games bid.
“When we started the men’s Tour of Qatar, we said a women’s race would follow,” added Sheikh Khalid.
“It’s our aim to promote the sport of cycling in Qatar and the world, and it’s important to have a women’s discipline.”
The stoplights and construction have tamed Qatar’s notorious drivers. Each weekend, they give way to cycling teams registered in the federation. The packs riding the city’s streets to the outskirts, where football stadiums are popping up like wildflowers, not only include men, but a growing number of women.
“I know that you are asking about Qatari women, but we are talking about serving a community: the expatriates from the Arab world and from Europe, who live in Doha and participate here,” Sheikh Khalid said.
“Women participate in a number of sports; we’ve got a good shooting team, handball, and basketball. The cycling federation was started at the end of 2001, other federations have been around for ages. We’re a relatively new sport in Qatar, even for men.”