Viewing cable 04MUSCAT2030
Title: NEW SPORTS MINISTER ON THE BALL, BUT OFF ECONOMIC

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
04MUSCAT20302004-11-23 12:39:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Muscat
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MUSCAT 002030 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
STATE FOR NEA/PPD (MQUINN), NEA/ARPI, ECA/PE 
STATE PASS TO USTR:JBUNTIN 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PREL ECON PINR SCUL OEXC SNAR TBIO ETRD MU
SUBJECT: NEW SPORTS MINISTER ON THE BALL, BUT OFF ECONOMIC 
TEAM 
 
REF: MUSCAT 1898 
 
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Summary 
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¶1. (SBU) Oman's energetic new Minister of Sports, Ali 
al-Sunaidi, shared with the Ambassador his active agenda for 
developing athletics in Oman.  He is eager to build linkages 
to the U.S. and other countries, both to develop sports 
programs and training facilities, as well as to market Oman 
as an ideal venue for regional tournaments.  Acknowledging 
that his October appointment to a newly established ministry 
came as a surprise, Sunaidi is busy addressing the key 
complaints he said the Sultan had with the predecessor 
agency.  As one of the USG's key economic interlocutors 
during his stint as Ministry of Commerce Under Secretary, 
Sunaidi admitted that his new duties will preclude him from 
playing any role in the ongoing Free Trade Agreement talks 
with the U.S.  He had no insights when a new Commerce Under 
Secretary might be appointed.  The Embassy will look to the 
 
SIPDIS 
new Ministry of Sports as an ideal partner for engaging Omani 
youth.  End Summary. 
 
¶2. (U) On November 22, the Ambassador, accompanied by Pol/E 
Chief, paid a courtesy call  on the new Minister of Sports, 
Ali bin Masoud al-Sunaidi.  Sunaidi, who had been a key 
interlocutor with the USG on bilateral trade and investment 
issues during his erstwhile stint as Under Secretary at the 
Ministry of Commerce and Industry, was appointed to head the 
newly created ministry in a surprise royal decree October 20 
(reftel). 
 
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A Surprise to All 
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¶3. (SBU) Sunaidi admitted that his appointment as Minister of 
Sport came as a surprise, though he said he had worked while 
at the Ministry of Commerce (MOCI) on a number of committees 
that dealt with sports and youth-related issues.  The Sultan, 
he said, wanted a "thematic" change in the way the 
now-defunct General Organization for Youth, Sports and 
Culture Affairs (GOYSCA) did business.  One of GOYSCA's 
greatest weaknesses was its relationship with the media, 
which Sunaidi has immediately undertaken to address by 
launching its own website during the recent Eid al-Fitr 
holiday.  Putting his Commerce Ministry expertise to good 
use, Sunaidi teamed a trio of his Ministry's marketing 
experts with an outside graphics firm (a pair of brothers 
educated in the U.S.) and a local confectioner to further 
publicize the new website with a candy give-away that went 
from inception to distribution of 5000 gift boxes in just 3 
days.  The website (www.sportsoman.com) invites visitors to 
"write to the Minister," and Sunaidi gleefully reported 
getting messages from Oman, Europe and North America (on 
everything from the high cost of tickets to the grammar on 
the website). 
 
¶4. (SBU) The Minister said the Sultan was also disappointed 
with how little GOYSCA interacted with ordinary Omanis. 
Demonstrating his hands-on approach, Sunaidi recalled working 
out in a local club and observing suspiciously well-sculpted 
weightlifters.  He interviewed star Omani bodybuilder Haji 
Shahban about the prevalence of steroid and other 
performance-enhancing drug use, and was alarmed to hear that 
indeed some Omani athletes are injecting banned substances. 
Sunaidi teamed with an Under Secretary from the Ministry of 
Health to talk to directors of several leading clubs and made 
a carrot-and-stick offer.  Sunaidi promised to use the 
resources of his Ministry to promote and advertise those 
clubs that enforced a zero-tolerance policy on illegal drugs, 
while threatening to revoke the registration and drive out of 
business any sports club that permitted such use.  Haji 
Shahban was enlisted to headline a public awareness campaign 
that will feature warning posters in sports facilities around 
the Sultanate.  (An interview with Shahban is also featured 
on the Ministry's website.)  In another effort at outreach, 
the Ministry is building an SMS network that will allow them 
to instantly send out text messages to cellular subscribers 
on sports events.  Such an network, the Minister said, would 
have been used to advertise the visit of two Georgetown 
University basketball players who came to Oman (Nov 21-23) as 
Embassy-sponsored cultural ambassadors. 
 
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Seeking Foreign Partners 
------------------------ 
 
¶5. (U) One of Sunaidi's top priorities is to put Oman on the 
international sports map.  He would like to see Oman take 
advantage of its public facilities to host regional and 
international events (everything from soccer tournaments and 
track and field competitions to rally racing).  He also 
thinks Oman could carve out a unique niche as a year-round 
high-altitude training center if such a facility could be 
built in the Jebel Akhdar mountains inland from Muscat.  The 
Ambassador suggested the U.S. Olympic Training Center in 
Colorado Springs or a similar facility in Flagstaff, Arizona 
as potential resources and exemplars.  Sunaidi is also 
looking to foreign partners to help his Ministry to develop 
its own lab and diagnostic center to assess the physical 
capacity of young athletes.  Oman's Ali al-Habsi, the leading 
goalie in the Norwegian soccer league, was never envisioned 
by his coaches and friends while growing up as a likely 
world-class athlete, according to Sunaidi.  He would like to 
discover other potential gifted athletes at an earlier age. 
Sunaidi also sees practical applications.  There is an entire 
industry of Omani skin divers who gather 7000 tons of abalone 
each year off the coast of Salalah, who are able to dive to 
great depths with no diving equipment.  Studying how these 
divers achieve this feat would serve both the fishing 
industry and sports medicine. 
 
¶6. (SBU) As a graduate himself (engineering) of the 
sports-crazed University of Miami, Sunaidi is keen on 
obtaining sports scholarships for more Omani athletes.  He 
said there are only three such scholarships currently 
available, which ultimately means finding good athletes with 
exceptional school records.  As a "lifelong B-plus student," 
Sunaidi would prefer having many more scholarships available 
so that they can be awarded instead to exceptional athletes 
who are also good students.  U.S. scholarships, he lobbied, 
would give the USG excellent public relations benefit.  He 
envisions these student athletes becoming true leaders, both 
in sports and life beyond.  Building a culture of athlete 
leaders is one of his goals as minister.  (Though he used the 
analogy of developing "quarterbacks," Sunaidi is opposed to 
the idea of popularizing American football in Oman.  Sunaidi 
is satisfied with following the progress of the Miami 
Hurricanes and Dolphins from afar.) 
 
¶7. (SBU) Saying the ministry currently has "zero links to the 
U.S.", Sunaidi seeks American interlocutors - not at the USOC 
level per se, but at the mid-levels.  He believes Omanis have 
a great potential to develop in such sports as volleyball, 
running, shooting, "throwing sports" (javelin, discus), 
marine sports, and equestrian events.  Oman already has 
leagues ("associations") for soccer, cricket (established 
earlier this month), field hockey, volleyball and basketball. 
 Rally racing is another potential growth sport, buoyed by 
the popularity of Oman's star rally racer Hamed al-Wahaibi. 
(Wahaibi started out racing motorcycles while pursuing a 
business degree at the University of San Diego, and in 2001 
became the first Arab to win a European rally race.  In 2004, 
he became a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF.)  He is intrigued 
by the notion of reality shows such as "The Amazing Race" 
coming to Oman, and has an idea to create his own television 
show centered around athletic competitions.  (Note: 
Curiously, Sunaidi gave no indication that he was tapping 
into his own alma mater at the U. of Miami to build linkages. 
 End note.) 
 
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Hanging Up His Economic Shoes (For Now) 
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¶8. (SBU) Given the key role Sunaidi played in the bilateral 
trade relationship as the rising young star at the Ministry 
of Commerce, the Ambassador inquired if he foresaw playing 
any role in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) process now that 
the USG and Omani government have embarked upon it.  Sunaidi 
noted that he will have an equal voice in issues that come 
before the full cabinet, as any minister would.  But as 
Minister of Sports, he says he already has responsibility for 
the roughly 40 percent of the Omani population that falls 
between the ages of 10-26.  Given the huge task he has in 
bringing his new ministry up to the standards set by the 
Sultan, he said he would have absolutely no time to be 
involved in FTA.  He expressed confidence that Commerce 
Minister Maqbool Sultan will successfully navigate the Omani 
government through the FTA process, and could offer no 
insights into who or when a successor may be found as Under 
Secretary for Commerce and Industry.  (Comment: Officials at 
 
SIPDIS 
the Commerce Ministry likewise told EconOff November 23 there 
is still no word on a likely successor to Sunaidi, whose 
duties are currently being handled by the Under Secretary for 
Administration and Financial Affairs at the Ministry.  End 
comment.) 
¶9. (SBU) Again applying his economic expertise, Sunaidi plans 
to achieve greater efficiencies in the Sports Ministry's 
work.  He admits that its cadre of 400 employees, working out 
of a somewhat dilapidated 8-story building near the Central 
Business District, is more than necessary.  Rather than 
reducing their number (a feat he termed problematic), he 
intends to put them to more productive use.  He also argued 
that the 30 government-funded athletic clubs in the country 
are not sustainable.  He believes it would be more economical 
to reduce their number to 15 and simply transport people to 
the remaining venues, which would then get a larger share of 
financial support. 
 
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Comment 
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¶10. (SBU) Sunaidi's energy and intellect has made him in 
recent years a top candidate to become minister.  In just his 
first month on the job, he has done everything to reinforce 
that view.  Sunaidi's leadership undeniably affords us a key 
opportunity to expand our youth engagement through the medium 
of sports, as we happened to do with the Georgetown 
University basketball players.  We plan to work closely with 
him in further exploiting such chances. 
BALTIMORE