In the ongoing season of World Championships and players trying to booked themselves an Olympic berth, Qatar is all set to host thousands of fans and competitors for the World Athletics Championships starting on Friday (September 27), an event seen as a staging post towards the 2022 football World Cup.
During the recently concluded football World Cup qualifying fixture in the country, the organisers and fans were left anxious due to the problems of stubborn Doha traffic and unfinished public transport encountered.
The 10-day event in the capital Doha will be a key to see how ahead of the football extravaganza is the gas-rich Gulf monarchy trying to deliver smooth championships.
Although the track and field showcase will play out on a far smaller scale, the arrangements being made to cater to the football audience is in full force.
An ongoing diplomatic spat between Qatar and several neighbours could threaten to overshadow the competition, as well as possibly dent the numbers of spectators and competitors.
This is how Qatar has prepared for the tournament in key areas:
Qatari pro-government media has heavily publicised recent training exercises staged by the US FBI in Doha to equip Qatari officers with “crisis and disaster management” skills.
The city was ranked the world’s second safest by CEOWORLD magazine last month behind Abu Dhabi, capital of regional rival the United Arab Emirates.
However, the World’s hosts will be looking to avoid a repeat of chaotic scenes that played out during a World Cup qualifying fixture between Qatar and India earlier this month.
Indian fans with tickets were unable to access the venue and a surge of fans attempted to storm the ground during half-time as security staff struggled to bring the situation under control.
Ahead of the opening ceremony, hundreds of volunteers were marshalled around Doha’s Khalifa stadium by police while technicians hoisted vast lighting rigs into place in the venues intricate lattice-work roof.
Chief organiser Dahlan al-Hamad said at a recent sports integrity event in Doha that “Qatar is 100 percent ready for the championship — we are very excited”.
The stadium, which will host most events, was first opened in 1976 but totally overhauled ahead of a relaunch in 2017 and has since successfully hosted Diamond League events.
The city’s Corniche waterfront will be used for the marathon, being staged for the first time at midnight when the temperature will be lower.
The route will also host the men’s and women’s 20-kilometre race walks and the mixed 50 kilometer race walk.
Construction teams worked around the clock to finish assembling the elaborate scaffold towers that line the routes central reservation and will support floodlights for the midnight marathon.
Qatar has invested heavily in transport infrastructure since being named 2022 World Cup hosts in 2010. It now boasts one of the worlds largest hub airports and Qatar Airways is currently rated the best by an industry body.
But it is unclear if the multi-billion-dollar metro systems yellow line will be ready in time to shuttle spectators to the two new stations near the Khalifa stadium, al-Aziziyah and Sports City, both of which are shaped like Bedouin tents. In the absence of a rail option, fans will access the stadium by road.
The area is already popular with motorists and home to a mall, raising the prospect of traffic jams ahead of popular events.
Officials were pushing to overhaul several key bottlenecks and junctions across the city ahead of the high-point of the athletics calendar.
While the Khalifa stadium can hold 46,000 people, it will be configured for fewer fans during the World Championships with organisers hoping to attract around 14,000 spectators to the highest-profile events.
Tickets are “selling well” according to an official, and members of Qatar’s expatriate workforce — Kenyans and Americans in particular — are expected to turn out.
It remains to be seen though how many fans from neighbouring Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will make it to Doha for the event.
The three countries, along with Egypt, have enforced a boycott on Qatar since June 2017 and their citizens are technically banned from travelling to the peninsula state.
The Riyadh-led coalition accuses Qatar of backing extremist groups and Iran, charges it denies — raising the spectre that politics could partially overshadow the athletics.
Nonetheless, Saudi will send three athletes, Egypt five, the UAE one, and Bahrain 21 competitors in total.
The Athletic Federation of India on September 9 named the 25-member Indian squad to compete in the championships, however, leaving those who were suffering injuries.
The three-hour-long AFI selection committee meeting saw the federation approve the inclusion of sprinters Dutee Chand (100m) and Archana Suseentran (200m) and high jumper Tejaswin Shankar, after accepting the invitation from IAAF based on their World rankings.
Men: Jabir MP (400m Hurdles), Jinson Johnson (1500m), Avinash Sable (3000m Steeplechase), K. T. Irfan and Devender Singh (20km Race Walk), Gopi T. (Marathon), Sreeshankar M. (Long Jump), Tajinder Pal Singh Toor (Shot Put), Shivpal Singh (Javelin Throw), Muhammed Anas, Nirmal Noah Tom, Alex Antony, Amoj Jacob, K. S. Jeevan, Dharun Ayyasamy and Harsh Kumar (4x400m Men and Mixed Relay).
Women: P. U. Chitra (1500m), Annu Rani (Javelin Throw), Hima Das, Vismaya V. K., Poovamma M. R., Jisna Mathew, Revathi V, Subha Venkatsan, Vithya R (4x400m Women and Mixed Relay).
Unfortunately, the 400m athlete will not be participating due to her back injury.
(With inputs from agencies)