2002, Doha, Qatar
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and explosions and the

tournament hasn’t begun!

by Dan Kneipp

28, 2002, Doha, Qatar ©2002, SquashTalk

in Qatar. (photo© 2002 Dan Kneipp)

Most of the players view the Qatar Classic
as the best tournament of the year. PSA awarded it that very title last
year. Joe and many of the other players said that the fireworks display
last year was breathtaking. Rumours placed the value of the show at a quarter
of a million dollars. When this is one of the biggest tournaments of the
squash calendar and the price money is less than half of that, it seemed
a little bizarre and skewed. It made more sense today.

Full page
press coverage in Qatar. (photo© 2002 Dan Kneipp)

The qualifying has finished and the opening
ceremony was prepared including live coverage by the local television. The
media coverage in countries like this and Pakistan puts Western standards
to shame. Pick up an American, Australian or English newspaper and you’re
saturated with the two or three main sports (e.g. baseball, cricket, football)
and either nothing else, or pathetic tit bits that are bordering upon embarrassing.
The two best examples I’ve seen of this was when David Palmer become
world number 1 last year. Melbourne’s broad sheet paper allocated
one paragraph to it in the sports roundup section. The other was working
in California in 1997 at the start of the Ashes cricket series and not having
access to the internet and trying to find out the result of the first test:
impossible. Whereas here virtually every sport you could imagine has comprehensive
coverage, and if there’s a major event like the Qatar Classic there’s
nearly a full broadsheet page dedicated to it and comprehensive television

Which is lucky because it seems like the locals take for granted the
presence of the world’s top athletes. Apparently the tennis tournament
is similar here in that it’s rare for there to be a full house.
Even for tonight’s ceremony there was seating for approximately
2000 people and it would have only been about half full. I don’t
think they realise the quality of the show they missed out on.

Women players
minus a delayed Sarah Fitz-Gerald. (photo© 2002 Dan Kneipp)

The WISPA players were introduced to the
crowd first, followed by the men.

The local wild card player
must have been preparing for his match as he was absent along with Sarah
Fitz-Gerald and Peter Nicol who were both due on court immediately after
the ceremony. If my sources are correct Qatar has a population of about
one million, with only a quarter of them actual locals. Going by the applause
Shabana, El Hindi, Darwish and Elborolossy got, there must be a lot of
Egyptians living in Doha.

Once the players had exited the light
show began. Two thin gauze-like screens had been set up on either side
of the ‘stage’ with a water display forming the centre piece.
Spectacular laser shows covered the screens while the water was formed
into fountains that was then used to project pictures onto, creating a
breathtaking result. The theme of the show was countries of the world

A waterfall
is used as the projection sheet for a picture of a local boy (photo©
2002 Dan Kneipp)

This was all very beautiful and impressive.
I knew there was going to be fireworks and was looking forward to them.
I was keen to see how they could be soooo good that everyone kept talking
about it for so long. Then the real show began. Fireworks exploded across
the sky in synchronisation with laser lighting and water fountains. At
the same time choreographed music radiated throughout the crowd. At one
stage they had a Beethoven piece with fireworks going crazy. The hairs
on the back of my neck stood on end and I didn’t know whether to
laugh of cry. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a more impressive
display EVER. I’ll be happy if I never see another firework in my
life as nothing could compare to tonight’s show.

I now understand why such an
important and big squash tournament can afford to put over twice the tournament’s
purse into entertainment. The local business men like Ali Bin Ali who
organise and fund the touranament have the money and urge to be entertained.
This means having the best squash players in the world at their club.
If part of that enjoyment for them includes breathtaking fireworks displays,
and this will lead to them continuing to put tournaments on (as Ali Bin
Ali committed to in his speech), then bring on more entertainment! If
he only needs to put up $100,000 to have the 32 best players in the world
at his courts, but it costs $250,000 for the best fireworks, then he’ll
do what he has to do.

Having dinner later with Joe,
Dutch player Tommy Berden and John White, the display was the only topic
of conversation. As Whitey pointed out it seemed that any game of squash
would seem boring after a presentation like that. Throwing your racquet
and abusing the ref as fireworks just doesn’t compare. I’m
sure I’ll have changed my mind once I watch some of the squash.
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