Michael Pavitt

I felt the first Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) World Beach Games might be a curious event given the change of hosts from San Diego to Qatar a matter of months before. The sight of children carrying guns during an Opening Ceremony merely confirmed my suspicions.

While I acknowledge there are differing cultures as to what is acceptable, the image presented was not the greatest.

It did not exactly resemble a rolling out of the red carpet and with a big banner saying, "Welcome everyone to our Beach Games".

An unfortunate first image for viewers, but the remainder of the Opening Ceremony was about what you would expect for this type of event.

Short speeches, an introduction to the local culture and a little fanfare at the end to officially open the event.

The minimalist approach to the Opening Ceremony was something ANOC secretary general Gunilla Lingberg stressed the organisation were after when speaking at a pre-Games press conference.

Other new events have launched in a similar way, with the European Championships in Glasgow and Berlin last year beginning with a very low-key performance on a stage in the former.

The first edition of the World Urban Games in Budapest last month opted to forgo an Opening Ceremony entirely and did not suffer from it.

As with the Urban Games, a late change of hosts inadvertently gave organisers a near free hit, with any negatives easily attributed to the lack of time for the host involved to fully deliver the vision.

Children carrying guns was an unfortunate start to a otherwise positive debut for the ANOC World Beach Games ©ANOC World Beach Games
Children carrying guns was an unfortunate start to a otherwise positive debut for the ANOC World Beach Games ©ANOC World Beach Games

If we switch back to when San Diego was awarded the first World Beach Games in 2015, ANOC envisaged over 20 sports would feature, with all taking place on a single beach in the American city. From memory a music stage with thousands of spectators was also promised.

Qatar 2019 did not deliver this original concept and the Games will have struggled to make an international impression at their first attempt. Especially given the marathon world records and Rugby World Cup earning the sporting headlines.

But, crucially, the Games were delivered at short notice without a major hitch.

Certainly Qatar is not as "sexy" a location to launch a Games as San Diego would have been, but there was the risk the event could have been dead before arrival had ANOC been forced to delay the first edition by two years - from 2017 to 2019 – before announcing it would not go ahead at all.

For this reason, it is not surprising ANOC have repeatedly praised their Qatari hosts for being able to pull off the event and prove the concept is a viable one. However, it is worth noting Qatar is one of the few places with the resources to pull off such an event at short notice, for obvious reasons.

The five days of competition made it clear why the concept of Games was appealing and pursued in the first place.

They were both enjoyable and had a fresh feel to them. Having attended several multi-sport events where the sport programme is near enough identical, the beach sports were different and interesting to follow.

Beach soccer was the star attraction, with the competition delivering spectacular goals, skill, an element of luck and a considerable amount of controversy, as fouls seemed to be awarded quite randomly throughout the matches.

Spectator involvement was a given, partly due to the closeness of the field of play meaning those present might have to duck to avoid a stray ball from the pitch.

Beach soccer was a clear hit at the Games ©ANOC World Beach Games
Beach soccer was a clear hit at the Games ©ANOC World Beach Games

Even events like the handball and volleyball competitions were intriguing, with different rules to follow from their established versions on the Olympic programme. The former saw teams required to win sets and placed a priority on spin shots, while the beach volleyball say a 4x4 format adopted for the Games.

I complained in a blog two years about the presence of several events I did not consider to be "beach sports".

Allow me to revise me opinion on the beach wrestling competitions, which I thought were a surprise success.

A lot of thought seemed to have been put into ensuring it would be different from the standard Olympic wrestling events. The competition arena appeared to resembled a near sumo wresting style set up with the two competitors in a ring on the sand.

Competitors were also dressed down. Literally. Male competitors competed topless with swimming shorts the main kit, complete with jazzy versions of their national team colours. With finals being held in the evening, you had the unique shots of wrestling competition taking place as darkness fell.

By contrast I still do not really understand the purpose of having kata karate on the programme, especially as the World Beach Games marked the debut of the sport taking place on sand. With the winners already two of the established names in the sport I remain perplexed as to what the difference is compared to karate in a hall.

Sports like beach tennis and beach soccer at least gave the impression of having specialists in the respective events, which helped with the view that you were watching the very top level those disciplines can offer.

These disciplines certainly could benefit from the showcase the World Beach Games could provide.

The place of skateboarding and climbing still feels questionable, but both sports could cite mitigating circumstances with the events having taken place at separate venues inland from the Katara Beach, which held the majority of the competitions.

It is clear in future that ANOC will need to try to ensure as many sports as possible can be situated on the same beach, with beach handball and beach volleyball having also taken place at another complex where sand had been place into existing venues to give the "beach vibe".

One of the big positive of the World Urban Games, another fledgling event, was that you were able to complete a full loop of venues in a 10-minute period. Here, it was not possible.

The World Urban Games also succeeded in delivering a festival and giving the impression that something was always happening at the event for spectators to enjoy.

Large crowds attended the final day of the Games when several team events concluded ©ITG
Large crowds attended the final day of the Games when several team events concluded ©ITG

At times in Qatar, there were often hours between the morning aquathlon and open water swimming events to competitions beginning in other sports.

Clearly this was influenced by the weather conditions, with temperatures touching 35 degrees, plus the added humidity factor, during the warmest sections of the day.

As well as breaking up the competition, the heat made it impossible to attract crowds in the early afternoon, with locals understandably seeking shade instead. Perhaps, increased shade at the venues could have mitigated the effect.

There was understandably concern over the crowds prior to the Games, following the sparse attendance at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships.

While this played out for a significant part of the Games, with the heat contributing, the medal matches on the final day saw long queues to attend the competitions. There was a sprinkling of locals and expats seeking to catch action on the last day of the Games.

A challenge for organisers exists with the scheduling, as the team events required the Games to take place over several days to ensure the competitions could conclude. The knock-on effect was that a significant number of medal matches concluded on the final day of the Games at roughly the same time.

The vast majority of these issues could be ironed out by organisers, with increased lead in time and revision of the sport programme.

Lindberg concluded that ANOC were hopeful they can announce another host early next year, with the second edition still targeted for 2021.

"Now we will evaluate these Games," she said. "We will make a survey for the International Federations, the participating athletes and the National Olympic Committees.

"We will look at what we want for the future as, for sure, we want the Games to stay."

Should, as has been suggested, a Mediterranean country opt to host and deliver a refined version of the Games, there is no reason why the event cannot be a success long-term.

The ambition of ANOC when awarding to San Diego seemed to be the organisation running before it could walk. Qatar 2019 has at least got ANOC walking.

Now the challenge it for ANOC to ensure their event picks up pace and does not suffer another stumble.