Qatar ready to host 2019 World Athletics Championships

Published 24.09.2019 00:11

Political tensions are running high in the Gulf region between Iran and Saudi Arabia but, undeterred, tiny Qatar is set to host one of the biggest sports events in the world from Friday onward

Some 2,000 athletes from more than 200 countries gather in Doha for the 2019 World Athletics Championships, which run until October 6.

The championships that will open Friday are the latest feather in Qatar's impressive sporting cap, following the 2006 Asian Games, worlds in handball (2015), boxing (2015) cycling (2016), gymnastics (2018), and the upcoming swimming worlds in 2023.

The Aspire Sports Academy in Doha is a popular training site for athletes and teams from within the country and abroad.

Arguably Qatar's best-known athlete is Mutaz Essa Barshim, the reigning high-jump world champion and 2016 Olympics silver medalist.

Barshim will be a medal hope along with 400-meter hurdler Abderrahman Samba, one of only three men to have run faster than 47 seconds over the distance.

Samba is originally from Mauritania and eligible for Qatar since 2016. Qatar has in the past also made athletes from other countries their citizens, most notably Kenya-born former steeplechase world champion and world record holder Saif Saaeed Shaheen.

The biggest event in the country is, however, still to come, the 2022 football World Cup. Doha was awarded the athletics showpiece in November 2014, just weeks after a FIFA ethics committee cleared the country from corruption around the football bid.

Sports serves as a protective shield in a hostile geographical environment in the form of a boycott from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Yemen and Egypt who accuse it of sponsoring terrorism, a claim Qatar denies. But all four boycott nations are sending athletes to the worlds in the 50,000-seat Khalifa International Stadium.

Qatar's climate with intense summer heat has led to the championship being held very late in the season, and marathons and race walk in the city will start just before midnight local time.

In the stadium, cooling systems will ease the heat problem for athletes and fans, but it is widely believed that many seats will remain empty in the stadium, two years after the 2017 worlds in London took place in front of record crowds.

Successful worlds, and then the football World Cup, could also bring Qatar closer to the ultimate goal of hosting the Olympics, after unsuccessful bids for the 2016 and 2020 Games.

Turkey will compete it 12 branches in the championship with its national team of 20 players. Among them are world champion Ramil Guliyev and world number two Yasmani Copello Escobar.

Guliyev will compete in men's 200 meters and Escobar will seek medals in 400 meters hurdle. The most crowded field in the Turkish team is 4x100 meters where Jak Ali Harvey, Emre Zafer Barnes, Aykut Ay, Yiğitcan Hekimoğlu, Kayhan Özer will compete. Guliyev will also compete in 4x100 meters.

In women's events, Tuğba Güvenç and Özlem Kaya will go for gold in 3,000 meters steeplechase event while veteran athlete Elvan Abeylegesse will compete in the marathon. Record-holding javelin thrower Eda Tuğsuz, discus thrower Emel Dereli and race walkers Meryem Bekmez and Ayşe Tekdal are among other athletes to compete in Qatar.

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