By Kevin Roberts. Editorial Director, Sport Business Group
The opening of the Doha Goals Forum last week saw four presidents and the Emir of the gas-rich state take the stage of the Qatari capital’s world-class Aspire Dome complex to kick-off what they hoped would be a conference with a difference.
For such a tiny country Qatar holds a remarkable position in world sport. Not only does it host in excess of 30 world championships or other international events each year, but it is set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, one of the biggest and most challenging of all sports events to stage and manage.
Sport has been given a special place in Qatar’s ambitions and plans for the future. It is a major part of the nation’s Vision 2030 strategy which maps the future for a country which has deep pockets and ambitions to use its wealth wisely in areas including energy the environment and culture as well as sport.
Of course sport is not short of talking shops so, in order to succeed, Doha Goals had to be seen to be adding something new. First up the local organisers hired new-York based producer Richard Attias in a move which told the world how seriously the event was being taken. Attias had previously run the Davos Forum, an event often held up as a model for international gatherings.
We were told that this was not to be a conference but a genuine Forum which would deliver clear and actionable outcomes. It was also, of course, a massive statement of intent by Qatar of its capabilities and desire to be at or close to centre stage in world sporting matters.
And so they came. Four hundred students from around the world were the guests of the organisers and joined luminaries including Lord Coe, Sepp Blatter, the President of Gabon and former Presidents of France and Nigeria along with many others
Opening the event, His Highness Sheikh Hammad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar spoke of sports capacity to effect change, not only in Qatar and the wider Middle East but globally.
“Sport is the meaning for our gathering here and it is important to remember that sport is not just fun. It is also a way of living together and to be able to overcome differences,” he said.
“Sport is most important to progress. It can promote peace, values and competition. We are growing together confidently to build a better future and this is our focus.”
“We are optimistic that the initiatives (identified here) will not just be ink on paper but will be achievable and remind us that we all live in the same world,” he said.
Now it remains to be seen whether this ambitious project is able to deliver on the goals it set itself.
A series of carefully planned and co-ordinated task Forces, each held over to days, provided specialist forums to discuss some of the key issues facing sport today. Students joined, administrators and individuals from a variety of roles and occupations in and around the world of sport to consider:
• How can federations and sports governing bodies achieve more?
• How do we encourage more women and girls to participate in sport?
• How do we use sport to alleviate social challenges facing children and young adults?
• How can we improve the balance sheet for sport?
The deliberations of each Task Force generated more than 200 specific ideas and suggestions and Organisers of the Doha Goals Forum have pledged to select and implement projects from among them.
They say they will take three months to select appropriate programmes, a further three months to implement them and a further five months to begin delivering results which will be discussed at the 2013 edition of Doha Goals.
At present we don’t know either which or even how many projects will be adopted. What we do know is that Qatar has the will and finance to make things happen and we have to hope that the spirit of the event is reflected in future collaborations between Doha Goals and the many sports bodies and NGOs responsible for delivering projects around the world.
Two things are certain. First, under the right circumstances sport can drive change. Second, sport is inherently political, consequently, prone to reinventing the wheel.
We have to hope that the Doha Goals projects are able to tap into need and opportunity and take advantage of the most positive aspects of existing frameworks rather than starting all over again.