‘Lack of sports culture hurting the region’

Husain al Musallam, Director General, OCA

A day before the sports ministers of GCC are scheduled to attend a summit in Muscat, a top Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) official on Tuesday came down heavily on the approach of sports leaders in the region.

In an exclusive interview with Muscat Daily , Husain al Musallam, Director General, OCA, said, “It is high time that sports ministers changed their approach towards sports in the region. Despite having good infrastructure and financial backing, the region is way behind as there is lack of sports culture.

“The biggest challenge is culture of understanding sports in the region. The concept at the political level is wrong and the ‘political protocols’ take precedence over ‘sports protocols’ here.

“Sports management is poor and that is why we have had only one Asian Games held in the region - Doha in 2006 - in recent times. The only other Asian Games was held in Tehran, Iran in 1974 since the Games began in 1951.”

Musallam, who is also the FINA (world swimming governing body) first vice president, is well-versed with the region’s sports as he hails from Kuwait.

“Only Qatar has been an exception among the GCC nations and it has reaped its reward. Following the success of Asian Games, it is now going to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and also has invested heavily in Aspire Academy, a world-class facility.

“The legacy of sports has seen Qatari athletes win laurels at the world stage. The recent success in AFC Asian Cup is a testimony to its approach.

“The rest of the GCC nations, I am sorry to say, lack vision. There is a total misunderstanding on the political side about the National Olympic Committees (NOCs).

“All that matters for the sports ministers are protocols. Everything in the region is political. Ministers come in large entourage, wearing sparkling bishts (men’s cloak worn on formal occasions) with the aroma of costly perfumes filling the air. The influence of politics is stronger on sports in the region. Actually, it should be the other way round.”

Musallam hoped that the sports leaders will change their approach and said ‘politics and sports should cooperate but should not mix’.

“There is a strong disconnect between the sports movement and the governments in the region. I squarely blame the ministers’ indulgence in political protocols for it,” said Musallam, a career pilot and a close confidante of the OCA President, Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah of Kuwait.

OCA hopes for FIFA World Cup success

The top OCA official has been instrumental in the success and launch of events like Asian Winter Games, Asian Beach Games, which Oman hosted in 2010, Asian Indoor & Martial Arts Games, Asian Youth Games.

He hoped that the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will be a great success and said that the hosting of World Cup is an honour for the region and Asia. “To have a World Cup in the region, which is a hotbed of conflicts and political discords, will be a right message for peace. We at the OCA always believe in the power of sports and hope that the World Cup will showcase the world what the region can achieve,” said Musallam.

As for the decision on the World Cup being a 48-team or a 32-team event, Musallam said that it was a decision for FIFA and Qatar to take. “I hope that the GCC region will strongly support the World Cup,” he said.

Naturalisation policy needs a rethink

On the growing number of African-born athletes competing under Asian flags, which could discourage the development of home-grown talent, Musallam said, “Firstly, the OCA follows the Olympic charter and international sports federation when it comes to allowing foreign-born athletes. But if a country is buying success, then I disapprove it.”

He added, “I would like countries, who believe in such policy, to tap young athletes in those countries and then groom and allow them to remain in the adopted country forever. I am against nations who provide passports to established athletes and then take away the passports after they finish their career.

“Also countries in the Gulf region can look into integrating expatriate kids into the domestic sports system if a child is talented. Europe and US provide good examples of how they have benefitted by embracing talented children in their system even if they are not citizens.”

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