Qatar is perhaps one of the few countries worldwide, and the first nation in the Middle East, to dedicate a day every year for the celebration of sports.
As per the Emiri Decision No 80 of 2011, the second Tuesday of February of each year shall be commemorated as National Sport Day. The first National Sport Day was celebrated in 2012.
Dedicating a day for the celebration of sports reflects His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani’s keenness on encouraging sports not only on an individual level but also at that of the State. This also shows the leadership’s awareness of the strategic importance of sports in promoting universal brotherhood.
This was made clear by HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani’s statement this last Sunday to the CNN that sportspeople from around the world, irrespective of their political or national backgrounds, are welcome in Qatar.
The Foreign Minister was referring to footballers from Saudi Arabia, who, he said, are welcome to play in Qatar 2022 World Cup “and they are welcome always, even today”.
The significance of this statement cannot be overstated coming as it did on the eve of National Sport Day.
To a question, he said Qatar has not barred anyone from participating in sport activities in the country.
“We never politicise sports, education, culture or people’s life. Everybody from the GCC region or the rest of the world is welcome in Doha. Welcome to play football or to play any type of sport or to study or to do business. No one is being sanctioned because of his ethnicity or because of his background.”
Sadly, the same cannot be said of the siege countries which have lost no opportunity to politicise sports and use it to drive a wedge between the people of Qatar and their own citizens, many of whom have blood ties with the former.
The most recent example of the siege countries’ unsportsmanlike behaviour was, just a few months ago, when Qatar’s husband-and-wife team of Grand Masters was forced to pull out of a chess tournament in Saudi Arabia because of a ludicrous demand by the organisers that they don’t display the Qatari flag at any stage during the competition.
Following their refusal to accede to the Saudi demand, visas were denied to them.
Against the backdrop of such unsavoury events, this year’s National Sport Day assumes added significance. The nation is marking the occasion in the midst of an eight-month-long unjust blockade imposed on it by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.
The siege nations should realise that sports has the power to bridge differences and bring nations together.
They would do well to draw the right lessons from the example set by North and South Koreas at the ongoing Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, hosted by Seoul. The two countries, still technically at war, decided to bury the hatchet, field a united hockey team and march under a single flag.
Such is the healing power of sports.
Closer to home, led by His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Qatar has shown the world, and especially the nations who have, since June 5, imposed the blockade on Qatar, that it can triumph in the face of adversity.
Qatar has turned adversity into opportunity. In many ways the siege has been a blessing in disguise for the country.
At the same time, the Emir has reaffirmed on several occasions that Qatar is ever willing to hold talks with the siege countries to resolve any differences.
But are the siege countries willing to play ball?
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