Monday 12 December 2011

Arab Games opening ceremony

With great difficulty, we got tickets for the Arab Games opening ceremony as all the tickets were sold out pretty earlier. The doors of the stadium opened as early as 4 pm to let in the large crowd of people turned up to watch the much-talked about Arab Games opening ceremony. We reached the place at 4.30 pm and there was a huge crowd to enter the stadium.
Khalifa Stadium

For men, there were three counters and Vij and Umer could get inside the stadium within five minutes. And unfortunately, there was only one counter for women and the line was too big. After standing for over 45 minutes, my turn came and the security guy torn my ticket and the lady security told me that I cannot take water bottle inside. I asked her if I can empty my flask and take the flask inside and all she could say was “No, water. No, water.” I asked the security how I could enter the stadium as he had already torn my ticket. He didn’t seem to understand my plight and he said “go back, go back.” Women behind me started pushing me, and with great difficulty I came had to leave the queue to throw the water flask, and since the ticket was already torn, I had to buy the ticket again. At last, after waiting for another 30 minutes, my turn came and I entered the stadium. The rows were still empty and Umer had reserved two seats for me and Vij, as it was first come, first serve basis, and the seats had no numbers.

Surprisingly, we heard people conversing in Kannada and I asked the woman sitting next to me about her whereabouts and she told me that she, from Bangalore, was on a visit to her sister-in-law, who is living in Doha for the past 14 years.

Around 7 pm, the ceremony started and the magnificiently-lit Khalifa Stadium, with a cheering crowd of 40,000, took us to a magical world, thanks to the work of David Atkins Enterprises (DAE). Around 700 performers from across the Gulf treated us with a gripping 90-minute extravaganza that ended with a dazzling fireworks display. Not to forget the fact that DAE had previously produced opening ceremonies of the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and Shanghai 2010 World Expo; the ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Doha 2006 Asian Games and Sydney 2000 Olympic Games; and the handover ceremony of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.

David Atkins Enterprises (DAE), which dazzled local and worldwide audiences during the memorable opening and closing ceremonies of the Doha Asian Games five years ago, lived up to its billing in delivering a block buster. In collaboration with the Arab Games Organising Committee (AGOC), it created a story inspired and informed by the stories and images of pre-Islamic and Islamic history. The event looked like as if it was created to acknowledge the heritage of these times, in a time when the very pages of Arabic history are being rewritten.

A 30-minute pre-show featuring performances by Alarda Dance Group and Almuradah Dance Group gave the audience a foretaste of what was to follow. Well-known Egyptian singer Ehab Tawfeeq also entertained the audience with a number of his famous songs. Arab singers Fahad Al Kubaisi and Asala Nasri, radio presenter Nadim Sawalha and actress Abir Issa enthralled us at the ceremony before the participating teams took part in the traditional athletes’ march-past.

At 8 pm, the first part of the programme started. Right after the presentation of video package about Qatar, everybody in the stadium stood up to welcome the Emir. After the countdown, the entire stadium was flooded in light with "Bismillah" written by famous Iraqi calligrapher Sabah Arbili projected on the stadium floor besides the Qatari flag through the LED Audience Net. The technology was the world's first fully-integrated audience LED screen using over 60,000 individual LED pixels installed on audience seats that allowed the spectators to become part of the projection.

Qatari singer Fahad al Kubaisi with SIWAR-JCC Children's Choir led the solemn singing of the Qatari national anthem followed by a recitation of verses from the Holy Quran. The holy scripts were projected on the stadium floor.

Deafening applauses and cheers went up in the air as the spectators welcomed the athletes of the 21 participating nations of UANOC. The parade got under way in a colourful and a truly Arabian fashion. Each group was preceded either by a horseman or a falconer, a placard-bearer and a flag-bearer. Also, legendary athletes from each country accompanied the delegations. The huge Qatari contingent was the last to make its way into the stadium. The parade was followed by a heart-warming rendition of Syrian singer Asalah al Nasri's 'Dream of Champions, a tribute to the athletes of Arab Games 2011.

The second half of the show was a cultural show "Journey to Light", a presentation in four segments and was filled with significant messages and tributes to the Arab heritage. For this programme, the Khalifa Stadium was transformed into a desert.

We gasped in awe at various elements in the show, especially when the Stadium turf was instantly transformed into a moonlit desert a few minutes with the help of modern video projection technology never used before at a sporting event! We watched in amazement as members of two medieval Arab tribes pitched their tents on the sand, engaged in poetry competitions and even fought battles before reconciling their differences and embarking on the road to peace and prosperity.

Together with a cast of more than 3,250 dancers, musicians, athletes, horsemen and falconers, the show was a pageant of performance, costumes, scenic elements and gargantuan props set against an unprecedented display surface that turned both the stadium floor and entire audience bowl into the world’s largest screen. The show narrated the story of two warring tribes and how their conflict was resolved by the central character and heroine of the show named Dignity. The character represented mother, nations and the earth.

The universal theme of 'good' versus 'evil', timely for the Arab world currently in the throes of political upheavals, was illustrated through a classic tale featuring a 3,240-strong cast including 700 Arab performers, an orchestra of 40 and the 2,500 parading athletes.

More than just being a lavish ceremony to highlight Qatar's glory in hosting the first Arab Games held in a Gulf state, the event paid tributes to Arab traditions and history. The ceremony was inspired by the stories and images of both pre-Islamic and Islamic Arab history. Iconic Arab symbols such as the Arabian horses, poets, falcons, camels, the majestic desert and other breath-taking effects were created right at the venue using new technologies.

The technical innovation which played a major role in the opening ceremony marked two world firsts. With 86 projectors video mapping 126,000 cubic metres on the field of play, the show set a world record for the largest stadium projection surface attempted in history. Also, for the first time in stadium entertainment, the 40,000-strong audience was integrated into the display surface to form a giant LED screen made up of 85,000 individual pixels. This extended the display surface by 41,500 square metres to encompass the entire stadium bowl, adding the audience to the vast canvas of visual content.

The central character of the ceremony was “Dignity” who confronted the “monster” of ignorance and discord before eventually destroying it with the “torch of knowledge”, thus driving home the message that eventually, knowledge and wisdom will overcome all conflict. The fact that “Dignity”, the possessor of knowledge, was a woman in itself was of special consequence, especially for the Middle East where their roles are often defined by men and restricted by age-old customs that have become largely irrelevant in modern times.

In another act of symbolism, at the end of the event, a young girl, rather than a well-known athlete, lit the Games cauldron, signifying the fact that the children are the future and that they need to be provided with all they need to equip them for the future. “Go ahead child, light the flame of your bright future,” “Dignity” tells the child before handing over the torch to her.
All the 21 nations took part in the parade, with Jordan trooping in first and hosts Qatar, led by volleyball star Mubarak Eid, rounding off the formalities.

The crowd cheered enthusiastically as the athletes came to the Stadium. Qatar obviously were cheered the loudest, but Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, where recent revolutions toppled unpopular leaders, were not too far behind. Even teams from nations hardly known for their sporting prowess, such as Somalia, Djibouti, Mauritania and the Comoros, were also present in significant numbers.

The event had a simple theme, but it was done very elegantly. We had never seen such a ceremony and it was worth the money they had spent and we had spent on our tickets ;)

Heir Apparent Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Emir’s Personal Representative Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani and Emir’s Special Adviser Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa al-Thani and other dignitaries were present at the event.

UANOC and the Qatari flags were unfurled at the Stadium and the athletes and judges took oaths before the Emir declared open the Games. Qatari athlete Hannah Khalifa Al Bader, took the oath on behalf of the athletes and Saoud Hamad Al Qahtani took the oath on behalf of the judges.

The ceremony, attended by 6,000 athletes and officials from 21 participating nations, carried a message of peace and freedom conveyed through the unity of sport and the celebration of Arab culture, ended with a brilliant display of fireworks.  Fahad al Kadasi crooned a song that paid tribute to Arab countries. A spectacular fireworks display brought the grand event to an end even as the eyes of the world turned to Qatar.

The two-week long sporting extravaganza will have over 6,000 athletes from 21 countries participating in 33 disciplines. The notable omission from the list is strife-torn Syria, which has pulled out of the Games.

The Arab Games Organising Committee (AGOC) has selected 4,000 volunteers working across different areas to help deliver a world-class regional sporting event. Qatar, with a few firsts against its name, will add another feature by becoming the first Gulf nation to host the Arab Games, which where were first hosted by Egypt back in 1953. Qatar has already won the rights to host FIFA 2022 World Cup, and it is now bidding to host the 2020 Olympics.

The two-week multi-sport event will enable Qatar to share its unrivalled experience to create a games of Olympic standards for the benefit of all Arab nations and future regional Games. Qatar’s message to the Arab nations is very much clear. Through the Arab Games, it aims to bring together everything that Arab nations share and love, from sports to live music, culture, and arts, featuring events and stunning performances representing different parts of the Arab world to entertain fans of all ages and nationalities.

It is the first time the Arab Games are being held in a Gulf country after Qatar won the hosting rights following a tough competition with Lebanon. The athletes will represent 21 Arab countries following the withdrawal of Syria after the Arab League suspended their membership following the political turmoil in their country. The Arab Games is the biggest sporting event in the Arab world and started in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1953. It was planned to be held every four years, but political problems and financial difficulties made the regional tournament unstable and, in the past 58 years, it was held only 11 times, with the 12th edition now under way in Doha.  Egypt has hosted the Games three times, while Morocco, Lebanon and Syria have all played host twice.

Over the years, Qatar has established a stellar track record of hosting successful, large-scale sporting events with the ultimate aim of introducing a new level of service in the Arab and international sports arenas. Qatar has a blazing trail of hosting successful sporting events such as the Asian Games, IAAF World Indoors, Diamond League, Asian Cup, World Volleyball Championships, and WTA Tour’s season-ending championship. The Arab Games Doha 2011 will feature 29 sports, and 6,000 athletes in one action-packed event.

The Arab Games Doha 2011 coincide with the country’s National Day celebrations on December 18 – an annual reminder of Qatar’s culturally rich past, rapidly evolving present and progressive future – making it an ideal opportunity for visitors to experience Qatar during one of its most of festive times of the year.

Despite recently losing out to London for the hosting rights for the 2017 IAAF World Championships, Qatar has emerged as a serious player in world sporting events. As well as winning the hosting rights to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Doha is also bidding for the 2020 Olympic Games.

The Arab Games were the brainchild of Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam, the first General Secretary of the Arab League (1945-1952). In 1947, Azzam submitted a memorandum to the League, advocating a multi-sport tournament which involved the participation of all Arab countries.

According to Azzam, sport serves as the best way to connect the youth of Arab countries and enable them to build the future of the Arab identity. As a common favourite of young individuals, sports tournaments encourage them to reach out across boundaries, bond with fellow Arabs, and eliminate differences among them.

In the same vein, Azzam announced that the youth of the larger Arab nation is eager to gather all the dispersed Arab sports in an annual tournament which will be held in one of the Arab cities.

From then onwards, the youth of the Arab nations began to look forward to the Arab Games as a means of uniting them on social and spiritual platforms.

However, the Arab Games tournament did not gain official approval until 1953, when Eng. Ahmed El Demerdash Touny, an Egyptian national and a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), managed to convince the concerned parties within the Arab League that an Arab Games tournament would be instrumental to the overall success of the Arab identity.

In response to Touny’s proposal, the Arab League agreed on establishing the Arab Games, making Egypt the first country to organise an Arab Games tournament, which was held in the scenic and culturally rich city of Alexandria from July 26 to August 10,1953.

Eight Arab nations and Indonesia competed in the first Arab Games tournament.

Since then, 11 Arab Games tournaments have been held in various Arab cities. The last tournament, which earned widespread praise for its organisation, technical management, and quality of participants, was held in Cairo, Egypt in 2007.

With the growing popularity of successful Arab Games tournaments, passion and interest on the part of sports fans in Arab nations swelled.

The number of participating countries and sports escalated, long before the cultural, social, political, and economic objectives of the Arab nations could be achieved.

From nine participating nations in the first-held Arab Games to 22 this year, the Arab Games have come a long way.
Egypt, with its immense organising and hosting experience with Olympic and African games, has won the most amount of medals at a total of 985, with Morocco and Syria in two in terms of ranking, at 589 and 692 respectively.

The former United Arab Republic – present-day Egypt and Syria – also scored two major victories in 1961 in Casablanca, Morocco and in 1965 in Cairo, Egypt.

In terms of hosting abilities, progress is evident in other participating nations too. In 2004, the tournament in Algiers, Algeria, witnessed several broken records, remarkable numbers of athletes, greater variety of sports, higher numbers of medals awarded, a wider range of sporting facilities, and a massive turnout of fans.

Syria, independently, has won the Arab Games in 1976 and 1992 in its capital, Damascus.

Empirical evidence suggests that host countries, such as Egypt and Syria, have often met victory on their soil. However, the United Arab Republic’s victory in Morocco in 1961 and Egypt’s victory in Lebanon in 1997 were exemplary of success on foreign turf.

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