Doha 2006: Tales of Arabian nights

Philip Barker, returned from Qatar, reports on the 2006 Asian Games
The biggest winners at the Asian Games in Doha, predictably, were China.

Their final haul at these Games was 165 gold medals, 91 of them won by women.Their final medal tally could have been so much greater, but under Asian Games regulations, it wasn’t possible for one country to perform a clean sweep of medals in any event. So we had the bizarre sight of an Indian shooter who had placed fourth elevated to the podium. Unsatisfactory, surely, for both competitors in such a situation.

They say winning is habit-forming and,with the Beijing Olympics looming on the horizon, the Chinese certainly have the taste of success. Expect them to dominate in anything and everything, though the Olympic pool should be a battle royal with Japan highly competitive here and the Australians and Americans added to the mix.

The host nation, Qatar, had something to celebrate, too, as they completed their best ever Asian Games with victory in the football final, the cue for every Qatari 4×4 to take to the streets in celebration.

They confirmed they would bid for the 2016 Olympic Games. Their submission is sure to be excellent in terms of facilities, but they struggled to fill the stadiums. Most of the action was played out in magnificent settings but to a backdrop of sparse crowds, a great shame.True, local workers did turn up in their thousands to watch the tennis, but these were largely Indian immigrant labour.

The main press facility was a temporary structure adjoining the Doha International convention centre. In one section the written press had a dedicated workroom – across from quite the best catering facilities at a major Games. Every night the departing catering shift would leave amid great applause from the diners.

The broadcasting facilities accomodated the main Arab networks Al Jazeera and Al Kass. Handy when you wanted to check a pronunciation, though despite the best efforts of the Thai broadcasting pool, a few of the nuances got lost in translation. At the tea urn it was possible to discuss what was happening in the Premiership with a broadcaster from Iran, who was eager to check the pronunciation of names that he found tricky: Wayne Rooney and David Beckham! A surreal moment.

To walk past the control centre was to see a hundred TV screens beaming pictures around the world. Two 52-minute highlights programmes made their way across the ether, too.

It meant for long days with a busy production team, around 60 enthusiastic loggers recording every shot, goal, smash, dive and vault.

On the penultimate day, the longest event, the new equestrain endurance competition, presented special problems: 120km on a desert circuit. Lawrence of Arabia in sporting terms. Standing at one of the desert checkpoints at 6am, you at last felt you were in Arabia.

The Games closed with an Arabian nights spectacular. The music of Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Maurice Jarre added to the mood of fantasy. The ceremonies had been devised by those responsible for Sydney 2000. Their touch was unmistakeable. “So bright, so brief, the Games are over”. The fortnight indeed went by in a flash.