POSTED: July 22nd 2015

Qatar Bowling: Pinning hopes on young blood!

Abdul Salam Abbas / Doha Stadium Plus
Abdul Salam Abbas / Doha Stadium Plus

AJU GEORGE CHRIS / Doha Stadium Plus

THE credit for transforming the once-sleepy 32-lane Qatar Bowling Centre into a vibrant one goes to Abdul Salam Abbas.

The Qatar Bowling Federation (QBF) president, who boasts 35 years of experience in the sport, is an astute businessman. Abbas, who has been associated with the federation since its formation in 1979, used some of those skills to oversee the growth of several Qatari bowlers, including twice world champion Ahmed Shaheen.

However, the quality of Qatari bowlers has come down in recent years and it seems to worry the pragmatic official a bit. In a candid interview with Doha Stadium Plus, Abbas opened up on issues like many juniors quitting the sport and and going abroad for studies, slow growth of women's bowling and the sport's inability to make it to the Olympics.

Read on.

How do you evaluate the season that went by?

It was a good season because a few juniors, who can develop in the long term, have come into the national team. Currently, we've 12 junior bowlers and some of them have great potential.

Retaining talent has proved to be a big issue. Once they pass out of school, they go abroad for higher education and we're unable to stop them. It's a pity because if they stay with us, they can reach greater heights.

How're you going to tackle the problem?

Six players have left the team since '13. Unfortunately, there isn't much the QBF can do on its own. The Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC), and Ministry of Youth and Sport should step in to ensure that conditions are optimal for children to continue studies in Qatar.

All stakeholders should sit together and chalk out a plan to support bowlers from a young age. There has to be a clear-cut idea about what children should do once they finish their studies at schools and colleges. If we take care of their life's needs, then they can concentrate solely on the sport.

What measures have been taken to convince parents?

Parents generally allow their children to try out sports, but don't encourage them to take it up as a career. What'll happen if an athlete is injured and forced to give up? They ask me 'will the government support?' I've no answer.

For some parents, sports means fun. They place education above everything else. What they don't realise is that sport itself can be a well-paying career. Bowling is much more popular now and there's a lot of money in it. We're slowly trying to convince them.

The last generation of Qatari bowlers achieved many great things. How's the QBF using their expertise now?

Ahmed Shaheen, Bandar Al Shafi, Saeed Al Hajri, Abdullah Qahtan and Mubarak Al Hajri are all in charge of different departments at the QBF. They play important roles in talent identification and nurturing, and interaction with parents.

They help manage our bowling school. We've selected 40 Qatari children and they train at the QBC thrice a week. Every year, we choose 10 of them for outstation training. Last year, the the camp was in Malaysia. It'll be in Thailand this time, in September. We're planning to send some of them to Europe soon.

Do you see another bowler of Shaheen's calibre coming up soon?

Shaheen won two world titles in '99 -- in the US and Abu Dhabi. Salem Al Mansouri had won the '89 Qubica title in Dublin, Ireland.

They excelled because they were professionals. You've to make many sacrifices to succeed.

Do I see current players ever matching their achievements? It's possible, but difficult.

Why hasn't women's bowling taken off?

We already have an eight-member girls' team, with an average age of 17, and they train a few times every week. Our biggest hurdle is the shortage of qualified women coaches. We look to sign more Arabic-speaking trainers and officials so that they can go to schools in search of talent.

The QBF is currently in charge of the girls' team. We've been trying to seek the Qatar Women's Sport Committee's help without much success. Maybe it's because they already handle too many teams.

We're aiming to start a bowling programme for schoolgirls soon. Again, there're issues because access to Qatari schools is almost impossible unless you've enough lady officials. But we won't give up. We've also requested the QOC to add bowling to its annual Schools Olympic Programme.

Bowling has been trying to make it to the Olympics, but hasn't succeeded so far...

The World Ten Pin Bowling Association (WTBA) is working on it, but the progress has been infuriatingly slow. Frankly, the WTBA doesn't have the budget to push its case. Their marketing section isn't up to the mark and they've failed to convince media about their strong desire to be in the Olympics.

Earlier, there were several stipulations -- like having five zones or 60 to 70 countries as members -- preventing us from entering Olympics. But now, the IOC also takes into account how much revenue a new discipline can bring in. We've to submit a strong file to make our intentions clear. Sorry to say, we've repeatedly failed to do it.

WTBA officials talk a lot, but they've hardly succeeded in putting words into action. The US, which boasts the most number of bowlers in the world and is home to every major equipment manufacturer, should take a lead role in our fight. They've the most to gain as a majority of Olympic medals are likely to be won by their bowlers. Unfortunately, they've been conspicuous by their silence. They simply aren't doing enough.

What could be the reason for it?

I had a chat with WTBA's American President Kevin Dornberger about why he and his country weren't taking a more leading role in pushing bowling's case. I was shocked to hear it was because US Olympic Committee boss Lawrence F Probst III wasn't too fond of the game. I replied it wasn't one of Probst's companies that he runs it according to his likes and dislikes.

The US should look beyond a person's whims and fancies, and realise how the sport will benefit them overall. It's an injustice meted out to more than 100 million amateur and professional bowlers around the world.

Do you entertain any plans of competing for the WTBA's top post?

I used to be WTBA's second vice-president and I've no intention of competing ever again. During my time, I've seen many people come and go. All they're interested in is talking big things. They rarely follow up the words with action. I can't waste any more of my time to simply keep talking. I had suggested several ways to rejuvenate the WTBA, but no one was interested in listening. After a certain point, I gave up.

Keywords · Olympics · Bowling · Qatar

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