Ahead of the FIFA World Cup, Qatar’s new Olympic and Sports Museum blends ancient and modern athletics


Qatar may be small, but its ambitions are Herculean when it comes to sport. Although the capital Doha has hosted occasional competitions since the 1970s, the Persian Gulf hub did not land its first major multi-sport event until 2006: the Asian Games (XV Asiad), where 45 nations competed in 424 events across 39 sports. These games marked a turning point for the country, which considers its participation in international sporting events as proof of its global ascendancy.

And Qatar has been on a tear of buildings and infrastructure since winning the bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in 2010. Home to 2.8 million people, the country expects over a million visitors for the event in November. It’s a race against time to complete a plethora of new developments: a gleaming subway system, eight state-of-the-art football stadiums (including a 40,000-capacity fully collapsible arena built from 974 shipping containers) and more than 40 public sculptures created by some of the big names in contemporary art. The crown jewel, however, is the Qatar 3-2-1 Olympic and Sports Museum, which opened on March 31, during the week the city held the World Cup draw.

At 204,000 square feet, it is one of the largest sports museums on the planet and the first Arab institution to join the Olympic Museums Network, which includes sites across Europe and the United States. Asia, as well as the United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs. Qatar is also the first Arab country to host the World Cup, an honor that has not been without controversy due to its anti-LGBTQ laws and treatment of migrant workers.

Joan Sibina, the Spanish architect behind the Gaudí Center in Reus, Catalonia, designed the museum as two separate structures: the main building follows the arch of the historic Khalifa International Stadium, to which it is anchored. Attached is a spiral access building inspired by the Olympic rings, which of course glow blue, yellow, white, green and red at night. The entrance to the museum looks like a race track, and decorative mashrabiya, or Islamic-style trellis, provides shade on hot days. The museum is divided into seven sections, starting with the history of sport and traveling from the 8th century BC to the present day.

State-of-the-art displays incorporate vibrant audio-visual components and interactive digital simulations. There’s a virtual archery setup, for example, where you can practice shooting arrows like an ancient Greek. Other highlights include a reconstructed Roman racing chariot, an 1882 penny bicycle, and wooden clubs for pahlevani, an ancient Iranian ritual performed in an octagonal pit surrounded by spectators. One of the most prized possessions is a football from England’s 1888 FA Cup final, where West Bromwich Albion beat Preston North End 2-1.


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