Boring, boring Qatar beats HK when it comes to being proactive

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am

Try to contain your sorrow here folks because, as sad as it is to admit, the 'Games of Your Life' are now over. Officially opened on December 1 by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the 15th Asian Games in Doha ended on December 15. The official slogan, 'The Games of Your Life', must now be retired as well.

Ironically, here in Hong Kong these were supposed to be the games of our lives, not Qatar's. It's a pity they were not for a number of reasons. Hong Kong is everything Qatar is not: vibrant, international, accessible and enormously convenient.

The problem is the people who put together Hong Kong's bid for the games, and on a much broader level the people who are responsible for selling Hong Kong internationally, can't look much past the obvious. Sure, Hong Kong rocks and no doubt the airport and public transport systems are world class. But I don't care how much fun this place is and how easy it is to get to. If Qatar is willing to put up US$2.8 billion to host the games and build a spate of gleaming new facilities while Hong Kong commits roughly 1/15th of that amount and insists on sprucing up antiquated and poorly constructed facilities, well of course the Olympic Council of Asia had to choose Qatar.

Despite being a distant third in the voting behind Qatar and Kuala Lumpur, the level of disbelief among the Hong Kong delegation when their bid failed speaks volumes about their ineptitude. They sit back and wait for things to happen. Instead of enhancing the virtues of Hong Kong, they merely extol them. But in this day and age of expanding options and international competition, you have got to be proactive and you need to serve up more than tired old slogans that are half true at best.

As a result, the real losers in the awarding of the games to Qatar instead of Hong Kong were the athletes themselves. I don't think any of them were too upset about not having to swallow the raw sewage we call air around here during competition, although many Asian athletes are used to pollution.

But blue skies were probably the only positive about holding the games in Qatar. By and large, these athletes competed in deserted venues in a region sorely lacking any kind of buzz or, dare we say, fun. I know the athletes were there to compete, but the experience is as much a part of the competition as the events themselves and in that respect it seems like Qatar fell flat.

When Malaysia's young queen of the squash courts, Nicole David, was looking to celebrate after winning a gold medal, she turned up at one of the few hotel bars allowed to serve booze in Qatar, only to leave almost immediately because the place was dead.

Now imagine Nicole, or any athlete looking to have a little fun, heading out into Hong Kong for a night of revelry. They would have little trouble finding it. And despite the ineptitude of some of Hong Kong's sports associations, venues for the events would not have been dead empty. We have seven million people here, Qatar has 800,000. The numbers alone dictate that more people would show up.

Outside of Asia, the games generated little buzz and it was hardly surprising. While China brought a stable of world-class athletes, no one else did because they don't have one. Minus the Europeans, Americans, Africans and Australians, this was little more than China's national games with a bit of a regional twist. China won more gold medals than the next five countries on the medal table, Japan and South Korea included, combined.

The only two stories which seemed to garner global headlines were the case of an Indian female runner who was deemed not to be female and a Bahraini woman who wore long sleeves, long pants and a hijab with a Nike swoosh on it when she won the 200 metres. Yet all the photos of these two showed them competing in empty stadiums - a haunting image.

No doubt the IOC noticed the deserted venues as well and with Qatar officially bidding for the 2016 Olympics, it could not be a good sign. While they certainly have the money to host the Olympics, they have little else right now.

It's not like world travellers sit around and ask: should I go to Paris, Rome, Hong Kong or Qatar? No one really wants to go to Qatar, and why should they?

Oil money brought the 600,000 expats who live there, just like it brought the Asian Games. The government footed most of the bill for the 13,000 athletes and officials who came for the games. Maybe they should have bought some spectators as well because, apparently, all that oil money has yet to make Qatar a vibrant locale. But at least they are trying. At least they are proactive.