This year AL SHAQAB is the launchpad for the 14th season of LGCT and 4th year of GCL, with over 50 riders from 17 different countries heading to Qatar’s capital city to take part in this weekend’s competition. LGCT President and Founder, and GCL Co-Founder Jan Tops spoke of the huge anticipation among fans around the world for the kick off event of the season. "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. Jan 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 U25 competitors to train and gain experience on, the future is bright for the next generation of show jumping talent.
Omar Al Mannai, Commercial Manager of AL SHAQAB spoke of the importance of LGCT and GCL holding an event in Doha, alongside other premium events such as tennis, golf, Moto GP 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.”
Omar also praised Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani, who was present at the press conference, for inspiring the next generation of talent. “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].”
A youth camp will run alongside LGCT Doha, with 8-18 year old athletes able to meet and watch many of their international heroes. Mohammed S. Al-Suwaidi, Equine Education Manager 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 Bin Khalid Al Thani 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."
And providing the "best for the best" is a priority for LGCT and GCL. Sport Director Marco Danese spoke of the superb facilities AL SHAQAB provides the top international horses and riders: "This is one of the best facilities in the world - every year we improve a little bit the conditions; not only the beautiful stadium but behind the scenes everything is really perfect for the horses and riders. All the facilities for the horses are amazing - this is really important because it means the best horses and riders in the world are happy to be here and are able to enjoy the high level of sport. We can guarantee the best conditions in the sport.”