Olympic visions on show in the Gulf

From Philip Barker in Doha
Amid the Ashes heroics of Collingwood and Pietersen and Graham Poll embroiled in more controversy at the North London derby, you could be forgiven for missing the opening of the “Games of your life”.

Also known as the XV Asian Games, they’re the only show in town here in the Qatari capital, and with 10,000 athletes taking part , they’re as big in scope as the Olympics themselves.

These 2006 Games are set to offer some valuable pointers for the Olympic Games in Beijing. Already, with just a day or so gone, the Chinese national anthem is already the one tune everybody can hum because its been played so often.

The Chinese have a massive team, contesting all 35 sports and they took the first six golds of the Games in Shooting. They have also dominated early proceedings in the swimming pool and their aquatic speciality, diving, hasn’t even begun yet.

IOC President Jacques Rogge and Fifa President Sepp Blatter were in town for the breathtaking opening ceremony with its multi-million dollar budget. It took as its theme the meeting of the the desert and the sea, used 64 Arab horsemen, offered a spectacular depiction of the Silk Road and a voyage in a traditional dhow and ended with a lone horseman, the son of the Emir, riding to the top of the grandstand to light the cauldron.

The LOCOG observers here must have been impressed by what they saw. It was a display which set a benchmark for future ceremonies, London will have to pull out all the stops to surpass this.

At least the London budget won’t have to accommodate a facility for Kabbadi, a uniquely Asian game that’s a cross between British bulldog and tag, or Sepaktakraw, where keepy uppy meets tennis in an amazingly acrobatic game where bicycle kicks are routinely executed with an alan that surpass Ronaldinho and Rooney.

While cranes dot the bay as new skyscrapers take shape, the sports facilities are, without exception, magnificent.

All they need now is for the unseasonal rain to cease and the crowd to roll up in numbers.

Early indications are that the media will be well served. The excellent INFO system of biographies and other essential information familiar from recent Olympic Games is up and running here, run by much the same team which guided it in Athens and Torino. Journalists are accommodated in media villages, towers overlooking the waterfront, and while a magnificent exotic cuisine is available in the restaurant, steak and kidney pie is also on the menu.

The welcome is genuine but the Qataris also cherish a dream. They’re determined to bring the 2016 Olympic Games and the World Cup to these shores.