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Sultanate a perfect sports tourism haven
August 8, 2018 | 9:12 PM
by Times News Service
Oman eyes a piece of the over OMR300 billion worth global sports tourism pie, as part of national plans to reduce dependence on oil
 
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Muscat: Sports tourism can help grow the Sultanate’s economy and help shape its non-oil future, according to experts.

Sports tourism is estimated to be worth $800 billion (OMR308 billion), and Sheikh Khalid Al Zubair, head of the Oman Olympic Committee and member of the International Olympic Committee, said that developing Oman’s sports facilities would provide the country with many positive effects in the future, adding that top officials from the planning committee had included this in the economic expansion plan.

“We have been promised that they are looking at it, as part of their expansion project,” Al Zubair said.

“They have chosen a few sectors that we announced, and in the future, they are promising that sports will be given specific attention. I am not sure as to when this will happen, but going forward, I definitely see sports as more of an enabler and a supporter of development in Oman.”



“Tourism is very important, and we have always said that sports on its own is a tool. Sports is an enabler. Just like any other business, sports, with the help of investors, can help tourism,” added Al Zubair. “Right now, for example, in Salalah, we had so many tournaments during the Khareef season that were really successful, and we should have similar events in Muscat.”

Development of sports

Al Zubair believes that job creation and economic expansion aside, sports development had plenty of other positive benefits for the community.

“If we are, suppose, for example, leaning towards tourism, then we have to look at the benefits of the tourism side and the sports side,” he said. “Sports is also an enabler for the community. It is a big help to society, because it helps keep people in good health and reduces the cost of health services in the future, and reduces the demand of health services.”

“Also, the life skills that you can develop by playing sports and the skills you develop by being part of these sports associations are also very useful, so sports is always an enabler,” added Al Zubair.

“It is really important. Over and above that, sports and sports tourism should also benefit the athletes themselves.”

“This whole ecosystem can and has to be developed,” he said. “I hope that the returns on the investment into sports tourism can be invested back in the athletes, because sports, if it lives up to a really high standard, then people will be able to not just play matches and tournaments here, but we can go and play tournaments all around the world.”

Before that happened, however, Al Zubair noted that a clear plan needed to be worked out.

“This is important, but we must remember that these two are linked,” he explained. “Do we focus on efforts on foreign teams that come here to stay, or do we build up our own level of entertainment of sports that attracts people? We need to focus on one or the other, and we are still not at the levels we need to be at.”

Oman Sail is one of the country’s biggest organisers of sporting events, and Salma Al Hashmi, the organisation’s chief marketing officer, said sports tourism is already playing a role in putting Oman on the map.

“I think it important to look at why Tanfeedh has looked at sports tourism as one of the key areas that contributes to stimulating the tourism industry with the purpose of contributing to the number of arrivals in-country,” she said. “They looked at it in a number of ways, with the overarching objective of how sports can contribute to the total number of international tourist arrivals. When you host a sporting event, you welcome the athletes, but beyond that, you’ve got spectators and the international media, which puts the country that is hosting that specific event into the limelight. That means there is increased spending and hotel occupancy and increases the value of the tourism sector and indirectly contributes to creating jobs.”

“Globally, the growth of sports tourism is valued at $800 billion, which is 10 per cent of the total value of the tourism industry,” added Al Hashmi.

“It has an expected growth of 41 per cent between 2017 and 2021. It is an industry that has proven to be very resilient, so even if there is an economic downturn, all of these sporting competitions still go on. We are currently working with Tanfeedh on the implementation of mass participation events such as running, on-road and off-road events, cycling and triathlons, and looking at bidding for big regional events.”

Chuck Martini, head coach and technical director of the Muscat Football Academy, also felt sports tourism would help the nation, going forward.

“I believe Oman has a lot of potential in terms of the weather it has during the later months, and it will generate a lot of income for the country,” he said.

“It is a nation that is fast-growing, especially in sports, and I believe that it has to find different methods of bringing in revenue.”

“The country has great beaches and mountains, and it is a beautiful country with untouched beauty, unlike some other Gulf countries,” added the former goalkeeper, who represented Morocco at the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

“But it still needs to invest in its sports infrastructure and develop international-class facilities, as well as grassroots sports in general. All of these things will generate finance for the country and will help it flourish.”



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