The petrodollar really does make a difference. Look no further than the international sports calendar to see what a lot of money does and what little of it cannot do.
In Qatar, December brings in the Doha Golf Masters. The end of February is reserved for the Qatar Women’s Tennis Open in Doha, followed by the Qatar Tennis Open, which rolls around in April.
The neighboring United Arab Emirates has perhaps made an even bigger sports splash, presenting the Dubai Tennis Championships in February and March, the Dubai Women’s Tennis Open a few days earlier, the four-day Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in December and the 17-year-old Dubai Golf Desert Classic.
It isn’t just golf and tennis, and it isn’t just Qatar and the UAE. There’s the one-day Indo-Pak Sharjah cricket series; March’s Motor Racing Grand Prix in Bahrain; the Hassan II Tennis Grand Prix in Casablanca in April; the Women s Tennis Grand Prix in Rabat in May and the Dubai World Cup, one of the world’s richest horse races that brings together competitors from five continents.
This month, Doha hosted the Athletics IAAF Outdoor meeting, the one in which Olympic gold medallist Justin Gatlin was sensationally denied the outright world 100-meter record after his time was suddenly altered almost a week later. All this transpires due to a profusion of cash. A doubling of the prize-money in 2002 has hoisted the Qatar Golf Masters into the big league of the early-season events and ensured strong fields with a pot of £778,000. The ATP Qatar Open Tour goes for $1 million.
The top prize in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship is a cool £188,000. Total prize money in the Dubai Golf Desert Classic is a knock-you-down $2.4 million with the lucky winner pocketing $400,000. And you won’t be on the dole if you finish second; that guarantees you $266,660, followed by $150, 240 and $120,000 respectively, to help pay the bills.
Billed the greatest tennis extravaganza in the Middle East, and great in equal pay too, the Dubai Tennis Championships gives women $1 million, plus another $1 million for the men.
If you would like to compare the money up for grabs at this year’s Wimbledon, the greatest tennis show on earth, is £655,000 for gentlemen (£630,000 in 2005) and £625,000 for ladies (£600,000 in 2005). The French Open last year was worth 940,000 euros (£655,000) for the singles champion, men and women each.
In golf, the total purse for the Masters, the ultimate showcase for professional golf, is $7 million. The British Open in 2005 shelled out $7,490,400 with $1,348,272 going to the winner. Two years ago, the PGA Championship purse stood at $6.25 million with the winner receiving $1.125 million.
Money-wise, the Gulf compares favorably. Coming then as no surprise, these opulently rich Arab tournaments attract all the people we know: Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Ian Woosnam, Vijay Singh, Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport and the Williams sisters. They fly in, work for four or five days, then fly out with more money than we will make in four or five life times.
It’s different in Egypt. We don’t have such star-pulling power. What we do best is an unending stream of championships, preferably team ball games. In football alone, the country has hosted four African Nations Cups including the successfully concluded event in February.
The U-17 World Football Championship in 1997 was played before booming crowds on Egypt s national turf, marking the first time an African nation staged a FIFA event. The three-week tournament featured a buck-toothed teen with an effervescent smile named Ronaldinho.
In 1999, Egypt became the first African nation to host the World Handball Championship. Six years earlier, the World Junior Handball Championship came to Cairo.
In 1951, the nation hosted the inaugural Mediterranean Games and the premiere All-Africa Continental Championship in 1991.
The list goes on. Egypt might be host to the most: The World Junior Volleyball Championship; World Water polo Championship; World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championship; World Judo Junior Championship; World Junior Synchronized Swimming Championship; World Taekwondu Championship; World Shooting Championship; World Bodybuilding Championship; and the World Billiards Championship.
1998 brought tennis stars Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Mary Pierce, Olga Baratshova, Maria Sanchez and Anna Kournikova, who was readying to become the first www.pin-up female athlete. The fab five played at the foot of the Pyramids for a showcase event.
It is squash that has made a racket in Egypt beginning with its first International Squash Championship in 1996 with the Pyramids as patrons. There were also other glorious settings in front of which the world s top10 pros played: The 1998 Squash Grand Prix was held at the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, with players competing in the sun and fresh air in a high-tech glass court in the middle of an island, a first.
The World Squash Championship came to Cairo in 1999. World champions Jansher Khan and Peter Nichol would soon make way for Ahmed Barada and the eventual world number one, compatriot Amr Shabana.
The dunes of the Sahara desert have long attracted four-wheel drivers and motorcyclists, the annual Pharaohs Rally being a magnet for professionals, amateurs and fans from around the world.
But here our bragging must end. Only the squash and car rally have fixed dates. The rest are either minor affairs, some staged haphazardly, and many are hosted once and that’s it.
The power of big-time money helps ensure that championships are major, played at the same time every year and bring the famous faces. Seeing the Pyramids is no longer enough of an incentive.