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Qatar swims to the rescue of first beach games

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Doha (AFP)

The organisers of the inaugural World Beach Games that kicked off this week have heaped praise on Qatar for stepping in to host the event at short notice after San Diego pulled out.

More than 1,500 athletes competing in sports from beach volleyball to skateboarding have descended on the tiny peninsula emirate for the event, which organisers hope will raise the profile of smaller sports.

"It's a great choice because Qatar is used to organising big sports competitions," said Gunilla Lindberg, secretary general of the Association of National Olympic Committees.

"I'm absolutely sure (Qatar) was the right choice."

ANOC was left to scout out alternatives to San Diego when the California coastal city pulled out in May after four years of planning, citing financial constraints.

While several other cities put in a bid to host, Doha won out because of its experience staging major events and ready-made infrastructure, Lindberg told AFP.

The event, partially held at Doha's beachside Katara cultural village, has avoided the thin crowds that dogged the early days of the recent World Athletics Championships, held September 27 to October 6.

The World Beach Games were created by the world's Olympic committees and announced in 2015, with 97 countries sending competitors to the Doha event that started Friday and ends Wednesday.

A beach tennis qualifier between Chile and Portugal on Saturday saw the temporary sea-view stands filled by small but noisy contingents from each country, alongside hundreds of curious expat workers.

- 'It's amazing' -

"It's a new event, so the stands are not so big -- but we have opened up for everyone to come," said Lindberg.

Qatar has invested heavily in infrastructure for big-ticket events like the 2022 World Cup and the World Athletics Championships.

But Doha has also hosted smaller competitions, including the 2015 World Handball Championship and the 2016 cycling Road World Championships.

Simon Chadwick, professor of sports enterprise at Britain's Salford University, said ahead of the athletics championships that Qatar sees sporting events as part of its national security effort.

Such events help make Qatar "visible, relevant and important" as well as deterring potential aggressors, he said.

Qatar is embroiled in a bitter two-year-long dispute with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which accuse Doha of backing Saudi regional rival Iran and radical Islamists.

They have cut direct transport links, closed airspace to Qatari aircraft and restricted their citizens from visiting over the claims, which Doha denies.

French three-on-three basketball coach Yann Julien praised Qatar for preparing the games in "record time".

"It's really well organised," he said, applauding the transportation and provision of air conditioned tents for athletes to cool down in.

Reports said organisers were struggling to raise funds to put on the event.

Qatar has "done a good job with the transportation and the setup of the venues," said Lindberg, adding that organisers had just six days to shift from the athletics championships to the beach games.

"It's amazing."

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