Each year, the Qatar National Day provides a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the achievements and inspirational spirit of our people and our country.

Over recent months, I have been incredibly humbled by how our nation has united through a shared pride and love for Qatar. We are an ambitious and optimistic nation, driven forward by our solidarity and the strength and ability of our people to achieve the very best for our country.

For me, sports transcends everything that this year’s National Day celebrations epitomised and it is for this reason that sports is at the heart of our nation’s future development plans. Sports showcases the very best of humanity and it inspires humanity to give the very best version of itself. It inspires us all to push our boundaries, break down barriers and set our goals higher. It brings together different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs and promotes inclusivity, diversity and respect.

Sports are an incredibly powerful tool to guide the aspirations, hopes and dreams of our young people. This is why I love sports so much and this is why we launched our new ‘Team Qatar’ brand and strategy earlier this year, which embodies the shared values of our nation.

Every day our athletes are striving to better themselves and to make Qatar proud. They show what can be achieved through hard work, determination, self-belief and fair play. There are no better role models for our young people and, through our new brand, we are determined to place a greater focus on our heroes, sharing their stories, showcasing their journeys, and inspiring our nation through their incredible achievements. Our athletes are constantly flying Qatar’s flag high and it is our ambition to unite our nation through Team Qatar.

“Sports showcases the very best of humanity and it inspires humanity to give the very best version of itself.”

It was with this vision in mind that we organised this year’s National Day Team Qatar flag relay. Over 400 athletes, schoolchildren, sports fans and inspirational individuals representing the diversity of Qatar carried the flag 200km across our country and its most iconic landmarks, transporting it via a wide variety of sporting activities, including running, cycling, rowing, sailing, wheelchair racing and more, before culminating in a unifying celebration at the heart of Qatar’s National Day festivities, Darb Al Saai.

The Team Qatar flag relay was a wonderful occasion that showcased the very best of our nation and its people, whilst transmitting a message of peace, friendship and solidarity, spreading the Olympic values and uniting everyone through Team Qatar.

Our National Day celebrations also recognised the outstanding achievements of our athletes on the world stage throughout the past year, and it is the diversity of these achievements that has made me most proud. In May, Al Dana Al Mubarak became our first female athlete to win a gold medal at the Islamic Solidarity Games by claiming the 25m pistol shooting title, whilst teammate Kholood Al Khalaf won bronze in the mixed team trap shooting, reflecting the strength and exciting future potential of our young female shooting team.

In June, 19-year-old Fares Ibrahim was crowned World Junior Champion in weightlifting, adding to his 2016 Asian Games title and seventh place finish at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Our prodigious talent continued his strong form by claiming a silver medal in the Clean & Jerk in his first senior World Championships in early December and as the youngest weightlifter in the competition, proving once again that he will be one of the key weightlifters to watch at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“The Team Qatar flag relay was a wonderful occasion that showcased the very best of our nation and its people.”

In July, our para-athletes made further history at the 2017 London World Championships. Abdelrahman Abdelqader became Qatar’s first-ever Para-Athletics World Champion with gold in the T34 shot put event, and Sara Masoud, who last year became Qatar’s first-ever global female medallist with a silver at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, added another silver medal to her collection, also in the T34 shot put.

Just a few weeks later in the same London Stadium, 20-year-old Abdelalah Haroun built on his 2016 World Youth Championship gold medal to claim a senior World Championship bronze medal in a strong 400m final. In September, our young equestrian athlete Hamad Al Attiyah shone at the Ashgabat 2017 Asian Martial Arts and Indoor Games as he won Qatar’s first gold in the individual show jumping competition, adding another victory to our equestrian team’s recent accolades.

However, the highlight of the year for Qatari sports was created once again by our sporting legend Mutaz Barshim. Following another outstanding season where he became world champion, Barshim won the Diamond League Trophy, became the first high-jumper to be undefeated in an entire season since 2004 and jumped over 2.40m for the fifth consecutive year, and received ANOC’s Award for best athlete in Asia in 2017.

Mutaz concluded the year by winning the prestigious IAAF World Athlete of the Year title, taking the crown from Usain Bolt. In doing so, Mutaz became the first high-jumper and the first athlete from our region to win the award. Mutaz is a truly deserved winner and we could not be prouder of him for demonstrating what can be achieved through dedication and determination, and for consistently flying the flag high for Qatar. He is humble, hardworking and an inspirational role model for young people in Qatar and around the world.

“This year, as part of momentous handover ceremonies, we had the honour to receive the flags for the FIG Artistic Gymnastics and IAAF Athletics World Championships.”

The Qatar Olympic Committee is committed to building on these achievements and ensuring that our development systems continue to produce more and more Qatari champions. In October this year, we successfully rolled out the first stage of Kun Riyadi, our Athlete Development Pathway that has the objective to identify, nurture and develop talent at every stage of an athlete’s career.

The first stage focuses on early childhood, encouraging active play and exploration for 0-7 year olds to help them develop motor skills that will become effective later in life. The launch was a huge success and it was a pleasure to simply see how much fun and enjoyment the children got from participating in the sporting activities. I have no doubt that a future Mutaz Barshim was amongst them!

Another significant opportunity to inspire future sporting heroes will be through our upcoming World Championships. This year, as part of momentous handover ceremonies, we had the honour to receive the flags for the FIG Artistic Gymnastics and IAAF Athletics World Championships, which Doha is hosting in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Both events will be staged in the Middle East for the first time and will bring with them a unique chance to showcase the very best of each sport to new audiences, capture the attention of new generations of athletes, and inspire our youth to participate in sport at any level. We are incredibly honoured and excited to host these events and progress is very much on track, continuing unaffected by the current political situation.

Most importantly, we are committed to hosting these events at the highest possible level, continuing to show the world what Qatar is capable of and creating a unique and memorable experience for everyone that participates – whether that be spectators, athletes, coaches, officials, media, volunteers and more. We firmly believe in the power of sports to unite, inspire and transform lives in Qatar and the rest of the world. This is exactly what the Olympic spirit is all about and this is the fundamental ethos of Team Qatar.

This article was written by Joaan bin Hamad Al Thani, President, Qatar Olympic Committee