DOHA, The state-of-the-art Al Shaqab arena will open the 14th season of Longines Global Champions Tour and the fourth year of Global Champions League from tomorrow. The three-day five-star event will host over 50 world class riders from 17 different countries as the spectacle of showjumping returns to Doha.
Until last season, Al Shaqab held the season-ending leg of the LGCT and GCL but the organisers have opted to get the ball rolling for this season in Doha. Qatari Olympians Sheikh Ali bin Khalid al-Thani and Bassem Hassan Mohamed will lead the home charge, with the reigning LGCT champion and 2018 Grand Prix of Doha winner Ben Maher of Great Britain looking for an encore. Two-time overall champion and Super Grand Prix winner Edwina Tops-Alexander returns to a venue she has previously performed well as will leading riders.
Omar al-Mannai, Commercial Manager of Al Shaqab spoke of the importance of hosting an event like LGCT and GCL in Doha, alongside other premium events such as tennis, golf, MotoGP and athletics.
This event is in line with the Qatar vision of 2030 - as the sporting hub. With the federations and infrastructure available in Qatar we have to use them in the best way possible in order to show our capability of hosting international events and prove the big part that Qatar plays (in global sporting events). The 2022 FIFA World Cup will be the (pinnacle) of this and will contribute to (the vision of) Qatar as a sporting destination. LGCT is one of the best events in the world."
Al-Mannai also praised Sheikh Ali for inspiring the next generation. Sheikh Ali is a role model for all the young people who are taking part in this sport and we wish him all the success for this edition of the LGCT. We have many plans that contribute to forming and training the young riders of the future," he said.
LGCT president and founder Jan Tops said the top class infrastructure and organisation at Al Shaqab makes the Doha leg one of the most anticipated events of the year. I am very happy to be in Doha - we call this our second home. We have been here for many years and have a great relationship with Al Shaqab and the Qatar Foundation. Everyone is watching the start of the season to see which horse and rider combinations are on form in the LGCT and GCL Championship. The focus from around the world is on Doha and this amazing facility."
Last week the GCL teams were announced, with exciting rider changes and new faces taking part in the series. Tops said: This year the teams are stronger than ever. On top of that we have the success of the GC Playoffs in Prague last December, which is an exciting new concept for the riders."
As the champions of show jumping gather at Al Shaqab for the first event of the 2019 season, there was praise for the impact the circuit has on motivating young riders and Qatar's national riders. Al Shaqab, a member of Qatar Foundation, runs special programmes to encourage youngsters to take up riding and train to become future athletes, and with the GCL team series providing a global platform for under-25 competitors to train and gain experience on, the future is bright for the next generation of show jumping talent.
A youth camp will run alongside LGCT Doha, with 8-18 year old athletes able to meet and watch many of their international heroes. Mohamed al-Suwaidi, Equine Education Manager at Al Shaqab said: The idea was to seize the opportunity of this event, we are the first institution to put this together and we can focus on riders who have talent. We have some of the best facilities in the world - the horses, riders and staff. The people love it."
Competing for the home city team, the Doha Falcons, Sheikh Ali highlighted the importance of the Championship and the calibre of competition. LGCT is world famous - it includes the best riders in the world and participating in this event allows us to continue to improve. We cannot elevate our level if we don't compete again the best, so it is very important for our team to do this. As a Qatari team we are interested in the GCL as it is not possible to participate in many team competitions and to have team spirit is very important for us."
However Sheikh Ali admitted the GCL team line ups look particularly formidable this season. We will work hard to be in the top 5 - we will do our best but the teams are strong so our objective is to be the best we can."
The action starts at 14:45 tomorrow, with the first round of GCL Doha kicking off at 5:45pm. Home team Doha Falcons will be in action, and have three riders on their roster this weekend - looking to play to their strengths in front of their local crowd. Friday will see two top level competitions, before the GCL Doha winners are revealed at 14:30 local time on Saturday.
The climax of the weekend, the LGCT Grand Prix of Doha kicks off at 17:45 local time, with riders not only vying for the win but also the first golden ticket to the GC Playoffs and the LGCT Super Grand Prix.
Source: Qatar Olympic Committee