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Games are where the heart is not

The Qatar government has imported athletes from all over the world, giving rise to the question: Are these Games truly Asian?, writes Ajai Masand.

india Updated: Dec 01, 2006 18:38 IST

Corniche is one place that exemplifies the prosperity and affluence of Qatar, one of the richest countries in the Middle East. Tall buildings, massive shopping plazas, a waterfront that, from a distance, seems to have borrowed the blue hue from the sky.

This is the place for hectic and frenetic activity, with the big day — the opening ceremony — being just 24 hours away.

Long, interminably long, boulevards are draped in the colours of the Games — although the Games mascot, Orry, can only be sighted with much difficulty. It seems that the publicity for the Games Mascot has been left to the souvenir shops.

Much like the mascot, the Games too seem to be confined to only a few ‘souvenir shops’ and the long and winding thoroughfares that are lined with reams and reams of fabric.

From a distance, the massive Asian Games Torch-bearing structure at the Khalifa Stadium seems so imposing that it seems to dwarf even some of the tallest structures in Doha. As preparations neared culmination, the Doha Asian Games Organising Committee organisers (DAGOC) put the massive structure to test.

Shimmering flames on the sparkling tower flapped in the night sky and the enormity of the whole thing had to be seen to be believed.

Given the kind of structures the DAGOC and the government have put in place, converting the desert into one massive ‘oasis of concrete’, there seems to be little enthusiasm among the locals and the expatriates who just seem to be oblivious to the whole thing.

Thousands of athletes and sports officials from all over Asia may have assembled here but the fact remains that the Games still has to wake up the denizens of this land.

The government here — like in many affluent Middle East countries — have imported athletes from all over the world, giving rise to the question: Are these Games truly Asian? Empty stadia and the lack of spectators — even at the flag-hoisting ceremony at the gigantic Athletes’ Village — are all testimony to the fact that the Games have yet to strike a chord with the locals.

The mammoth infrastructure, ranging from the Aspire Dome (they say it is the largest indoor stadium in the world and has been blessed by the likes of Diego Maradona and Pele) to the Lusail Shooting Complex to the artificially-built sailing club are all testimony to the fact that the rulers here have tried their best to give the best to their people, but this oil-rich country doesn't seem to be imbibing that famed Games spirit.

Sure, there will be plenty of fireworks, cultural extravaganzas and all the gizmo-induced entertainment, but the real entertainment — that of the heart — is missing.