Last month IWBF announced that the next World Championships in 2022 will take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Dubai prevailed in the bidding process against Ottawa, Canada who had also applied. In an exclusive interview, IWBF President Ulf Mehrens talked about the development opportunities of sport in the Middle East, human rights, accessible accommodation, women’s sport and spectator attendance.
Mr Mehrens, in the past sport and politics were often connected to each other. Especially in the case of the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar, the topic of human rights was and is repeatedly brought up. This is a point that Human Rights Watch has also raised with regard to the United Arab Emirates. Were these also aspects that the members of the IWBF Executive Council dealt with in the course of the application process or were these points even raised locally in Dubai?
“IWBF try not to mix sport and politics, although we have also seen the consequences of our decisions for disabled sports in the United Arab Emirates and are aware of our impetus also for politics. Specifically, the issue of women’s sport was addressed and there have already been initial signals from Dubai that this area is to be given more attention in order to be able to launch a women’s team in 2022. The decision to award our World Championships is made from the perspective of the diversity of our Executive Members. This too must be taken into account and allowed to happen in a world association.”
At the recent 2019 Men’s European Championships in Poland there wasn’t enough accessible accommodation for the fans. How will wheelchair accessible accommodation be in Dubai?
“Here we are probably talking about a general problem that can and will only remain in the focus of those responsible through constant attention. The hotel for families and followers has already been visited by our site visit team and changes for the accessibility of all areas have already been suggested.”
Recently the Para Athletics World Championships took place in Dubai, in front of a very small number of spectators. What did the organisers in Dubai say about the measures they wanted to take to get the local people excited about attending wheelchair basketball events?
“Of course, we were also interested in this topic and the future organiser promised us that programmes in schools and universities would intrigue potential spectators. Our site visit team visited a special event to get an impression. The mentality of the different cultures is always a risk that, as you yourself say, has already been dared by other sports institutions. As we have known since the Beijing Games in 2008, wheelchair basketball is one of the most popular team sports in para sports and has already attracted over half a million spectators to the halls in Rio. We are also confident for Dubai.”
How emotionally and joyfully did those responsible in Dubai react to the IWBF’s decision?
“Dubai has “driven up” everything that can underline the seriousness of the application. Behind the application stands the entire disability sports of this country. Dubai has made it clear how important our World Championships is to them for the further development of sport in their country. The award to Dubai was therefore received with great pleasure and is an incentive for them at the same time.”
What positive effects and development opportunities do you see for wheelchair basketball in the Middle East as a result of hosting the World Championships in the United Arab Emirates?
“As already mentioned, the United Arab Emirates will be strongly committed to the development of women’s sport. Additional programmes within the framework of the Fazza events, which have been in existence for more than a decade and are becoming increasingly successful, are planned for the next few years. The whole region, not just the United Arab Emirates will be drawn into the pull of the World Championships and neighbouring countries should and will benefit from the event.”
Can you finish by completing the following sentence? The 2022 World Championships in Dubai will be a complete success because … “
… we have found a partner who wants to promote wheelchair basketball with passion and energy and who wants to turn the country and the region into a hotspot for disability sports.”
Interview: Martin Schenk | Photo: Steffie Wunderl