Big-name sports follow the money to the Gulf

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- It was hardly a marquee moment in the history of world sports. Curious crowds on a Middle Eastern beach watched events that included horse riders slicing a lemon with a sword and a cousin of croquet called woodball.

Yet there was the president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, looking on from the VIP seats and then coming down to present some medals at the Asian Beach Games in Oman earlier this month.

If Rogge seemed out of place, he wasn't. The scene was just a sign of the times. Fans can expect more - perhaps many more - such courtesy calls to the Gulf by the stewards of international sports as the money-soaked region that once begged for attention from the IOC and others is now bursting with eager suitors.

They are emissaries along the new silk road of sports. In little more than a decade, the Gulf's wealth and boundless ambitions have lured big-name events and A-list athletes, while the region's leaders have developed a reputation as deep-pocket hosts - who are still hungry for more.

"We go to new lands," FIFA President Seth Blatter said Dec. 2 after announcing tiny Qatar's surprise selection for the 2022 World Cup.

So new that sports fans in some places had to consult a map.

Searches for Qatar on Google instantly spiked. Announcers outside the Middle East tried to wrap their tongues around the correct pronunciation: KAT-tar or GUH-tur but definitely not Cutter......................