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Sat 18 Nov 2006 08:00 PM

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Still playing games in Doha

I’m getting increasingly worried about the Asian Games, due to start in Doha on December 1st. I was in Doha last week, and judging by the amount of construction work still to be done, it will be a scramble to get the place ready in time. Still, I have no doubt Doha will do what it needs to do.

What is in doubt is just how many people will turn up to watch the event. “We’re expecting 20,000 visitors,” a spokesman told me.

Sounds impressive. Until you break that figure down. Around 12,000 of the ‘visitors’ are athletes competing. Another 3000 are the world’s media, and 2000 VIPs are expected to attend. Which leaves just 5000 genuine spectators.

Last Monday I was due to have lunch with the director general of the event, Abdulla Khalid a-Qahtani, but he cancelled at the last minute. I’m sure he had plenty of other things on his mind. After all, rumours are rife that the organisers don't even have enough hotel rooms for all the athletes. I am told that some competitors are even bringing their own sleeping bags.

The bigger prize

Talking of Doha, should the games ultimately prove a success (and I genuinely hope they do), there is already talk in the city of launching a bid for the Olympics ten years down the line. Officials say that it would be a joint bid, most probably involving Dubai – and given the weather – would require the whole Olympics to be moved to November. My spy tells me: “There have been some hitches getting these Asian Games ready but if we show the world we can do a good job, then why not go for the biggest prize? We saw in 2002 that Japan and South Korea proved, with the World Cup, that two different countries are able to jointly host a major sporting event.”

I hear that any decision on bidding for the Olympics won't be made until early next year, and if both Doha and Dubai decide it's a good idea, then another year will be spent looking in more detail at the bid.

On Air

At the risk of sounding Doha crazy, I can’t go through this column without mentioning the launch of Al Jazeera English. It is due to happen in around two hours time, though anyone in Doha probably has no idea. The station’s studios have more security than most military bases, and managing director Nigel Parsons (pictured) has told the 300-strong staff there will be no celebration party until the new channel is running smoothly. Could be a while.

Time off

There’s no better place for a business meeting in Dubai than the foyer of Emirates Towers. I go there at least twice a week.

But I have some important advice for anyone doing the same: Get there early. Preferably, a whole hour early. The hotel has a fabulous array of clocks on the wall, showing the times across the globe from New York to Hong Kong. Dubai, unfortunately, is an hour ahead of the right time.

Hotel Hilfiger

As we report this week, Dubai is set to have its own Fashion Week. And about time too. My spies tell me that some of the biggest names in fashion will be on parade, many using the show to launch other products. None more so than my old friend Tommy Hilfiger.

I hear he is eager to get back to Dubai after the huge success of his store launch earlier this year – and is hoping to also announce the opening of a dedicated ‘Hilfiger Hotel’. A source tells me: “This is something Tommy has been waiting to do for a long time, and he really thinks now is the right time.”

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