The inaugural World Beach Games starting on Saturday in Qatar want to squeeze into an already crowded international sports calendar with what organisers hope is the right mix of sun, sea and a low budget.
With more than 1,200 athletes from 97 countries competing in 14 disciplines, including 3X3 basketball, bouldering, beach tennis, beach handball, beach wrestling and wakeboarding, the five-day event is by no means a small affair.
It was initially to be hosted by San Diego but the American city pulled out over finances in May, with Qatar quickly stepping in to take over.
“It has been an interesting couple of months for us but luckily we had almost all qualifications done,” said Gunilla Lindberg, secretary-general of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC), founders of the event.
“In principle, we just moved from one place to another. There were a lot of logistics preparations. I am impressed,” Lindberg told Reuters in an interview.
Qatar organisers are repurposing many of the facilities, including hotels, used during last week’s World Athletics Championships.
Both competitions face the issue of scorching desert temperatures in the Gulf state. Walking races and the marathon during the world championships began in the middle of the night to avoid the heat.
“We looked at it before. Of course it is still warm. But the athletes at the beach games are more used to competing in warm weather,” Lindberg said.
“We also don’t have long endurance competitions. The aquathlon is much, much shorter than a triathlon. When we had a team chiefs’ meeting a month ago, it was 48 degrees Celsius. Now it’s 34.”
The event also hopes to fill the stands of the mostly temporary venues, mainly at Katara beach, and avoid the thousands of empty seats that embarrassed organisers at the World Athletics, by giving spectators free access to all venues.
Lindberg said ANOC would evaluate the World Beach Games later this year to determine their future.
But it is already planning an Oct. 15 talk with the International Olympic Committee and other sports organisations to discuss future cooperation.
“Yes, it is a very crowded sports calendar. But we still think there is room for the competition. Not everyone can compete at the Olympic Games or the continental games.”
Among the event’s assets are its relatively low budget. Lindberg said the Qatar event would cost between $20 million and $25 million.
“We want to open it up for smaller nations to be able to have a worldwide event without complicated venues and expenses. Here they put up provisional venues. It is a low-budget project,” she said.
“We told them we don’t want big opening ceremonies, big expensive venues. We want beach competitions where athletes are happy and enjoying themselves in their competitions.”