Interview: Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad Al Than

Can you outline Qatar’s vision for the development of a sports economy?

SHEIKH JOAAN BIN HAMAD AL THAN: Qatar is a nation passionate about sport. We believe in the power of sport and its ability to touch every area of a nation’s development. This is why it is a fundamental part of Qatar’s National Vision 2030. Through investment in community programmes, elite athlete development and state-of-the art facilities, as well as playing host to international events and contributing to sports development regionally, we aim to increase participation in physical activity, spread the values of sport, produce more elite athletes, increase tourism, business and employment opportunities, and forge global friendships.

How is Qatar emerging as a regional sporting hub?

SHEIKH JOAAN: Qatar focuses on hosting sporting events that will have a long-lasting impact on our nation and will contribute to the development of sport across the region, and globally. Our focus is on developing the programmes already in place and successfully hosting upcoming major sports events, including the 2016 UCI Road World Championships, the 2018 FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships and the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Athletics. Qatar’s successful emergence as a regional sporting hub can be seen through the number of events and initiatives that we have hosted or established in the Middle East for the first time in its history, and which have become a beacon for sports development across the region. These include the 2015 world championships in handball, boxing and paralympic athletics; our Schools Olympic Programme, which several countries across the region have used as a basis to develop their own models; National Sport Day, which has now become a GCC-wide event; the Anti-Doping Laboratory Qatar, which is the first fully World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited lab in the region; the Qatar Olympic Academy, which is the first academy in the region to offer professional sports education programmes; and our world-class facilities, including the Aspire Zone and Aspetar, both of which are regularly used by athletes and national teams from across the world.

What benefits has the hosting of major international events had on the economy?

SHEIKH JOAAN: Sport has been at the heart of Qatar’s huge development over recent years. Hosting major sporting events provides the catalyst for infrastructure improvements. They also increase trade and investment, tourism, and business and employment opportunities, and provide an opportunity for Qatar to showcase our capabilities in a variety of sectors to a global audience. Furthermore, Qatar’s hosting of major events attracts international expertise, which in turn enables a cross-cultural transfer of knowledge, further strengthening the skill set and knowledge base of the local population and driving towards Qatar’s vision of becoming an advanced society capable of sustaining its own development.

What lessons were learnt from hosting the 2015 Handball World Championships?

SHEIKH JOAAN: We are very pleased with the success of the Handball World Championships, which were declared by the president of the International Handball Federation as “the best world championship ever held”. We were able to fill the stadiums with supportive fans through an extensive global marketing campaign, which created a phenomenal atmosphere and inspired a new generation of handball fans. We will apply a similar formula to future world championships to ensure the events are promoted widely within Qatar and around the world through campaigns that connect with fans and capture the attention of both existing and new audiences, helping to leave a legacy for each sport in Qatar and globally.