Friday, May 1, 2009

Qatar Mystery

This week was one of mystery: First, it is another week over with the big question where did it go? The second was to try and understand why is there a fascination with sport and the apparent need to support a team.
The first question might be answered with the week went by so fast because there has been so much to do at work that the days flick past.
On this front I must confess that I have been feeling a bit like marmite being spread thinly on toast as it has been monthly report time which has meant filling out and filing reports on our actions and observed outcomes with all the interested bodies. Doing this exercise makes one realise how much one has done and how much more needs to be done.
Getting the English resource books from the library and into the English Department revealed the lack of English language books available in the library which has meant pushing to get a purchase confirmed and more books ordered. Not an easy task as there are few specialist bookshops that can supply the sort of texts a school needs here in Qatar.
As the end of the year draws near the number of tests being administered has increased in a lead up to the national exams in mid May.This has meant great angst for both teachers and students alike. For the students it has meant trying to rote learn responses to tests that test understanding of language and application of skills while the teachers worry about getting the tests marked and recorded in incredibly short time frames.
The second mystery was presented last night when we went to the first soccer game I've been to in memory.

This was the Heir Apparent Cup being played at the local stadium between The Qatar Sports Club and the Al Rayyan Sports Club.
The competition for the cup is reportedly intense as the local paper stated unequivocally: "It is a known fact that the people of Qatar greatly associate themselves with this tournament along with the Emir Cup."
We decided to go along with the others, who appreciate the finer points of the game, from the apartments to witness the event that had had such a huge build up with advertising and enthusiastic newspaper reporting and, from my position, to discover what the attraction of mass spectator sport is.
Earlier in the day Joy & I drove past the stadium where the preparations were under way for the pre-match entertainment and the big event.

Scarf Huckster outside Al Saad Stadium

There were blow up slides, bouncy castles, stilt walkers, face painters, mini cars and hucksters selling supporter paraphernalia of all sorts scattered around the car park area. This seemed be the popular attraction for the kids and families in the area and offered an indication for the evening crowds.
The evening provided the crowds and with the ticket offices closed and no indication of possible sales or sold out signs those of us who hadn't purchased tickets from the outlets at the shopping malls during the week formed scrums at the windows in the hope that someone would say if tickets were available.

The ticket scrum

In the end we gave up trying to buy a ticket from the windows with the scrums and walked around the stadium to see if there were other outlets and were signalled to by one of the military in charge of the Family Section entrance and admitted to the game.
Once inside we found the rest of the Mazda group and sat back to enjoy the spectacle. The arena was full with supporters groups waving red or yellow banners urged on by drummers who were to keep up a constant beat throughout the game.

Crowd and drummers
In the arena the Qatar Military Band was assembled to play the National Anthem prior the kick-off. The band were resplendent in their maroon and white and highly polished instruments as they paraded across the field to perform.

Qatar Military Band at Al Saad Stadium.
Once they had marched off the teams emerged from beneath the stadium to matching roars and much banner waving from their respective supporter areas of the stadium. The announcer made a series of comments both in Arabic and English which , because of the distortion created by the speaker system sounded identical to any announcement at any stadium or rail station anywhere in the world.
We stared at the ground for some ten minutes before we ralised that the game had gotten under way. The signal for this being a cheer and intense drumming from the red supporters followed by heavier drumming and more cheering from the Yellow supporters as the players started running down the field towards the net at our end of the stadium.
The ball flew into the crowd, was thrown back and was duly kicked up and down the field for another 30 minutes for a 0 -0 first half.

Men kicking a ball in a soccer game.
I ventured down stairs to the concession stand for fruit juice. This was an experience in itself as the stand was being over run with a swarm of kids of all sizes and decibel level all clamouring for attention from a harried couple of salesmen who were trying to sell water, juice and food from a stall made up of cardboard boxes of their wares. Like the ticket sales window here was the opportunity to get down into a scrum much to the bewilderment of the other ex-pats like me who had been queue trained from childhood.
Back inside the stadium the men resumed kicking the ball up and down the field accompanied by the drummers, vigourous hand clapping and banner waving punctuated by injury time as players somersaulted into prone positions, clutching their ankles or heads, on the grass and Red Crescent golf buggies zipped onto the field hoping to carry the player off on the stretcher they carried with them.
This half finished 0-0 which meant the teams gathered on the sideline to be watered and more sideline drumming before playing on for another 30 minutes for another 0-0 result.
Then the teams lined up in mid field as selected members aimed the ball at the respective goal keepers until one of the teams had put more balls into the net than the other.
This resulted in a parade of men past the Heir Apparent and the passing over of a huge gold cup to be paraded around the arena much to the delight of the yellow supporters.

Victory parade
The celebrations were punctuated by floods of paper, banging fountains of coloured tinsel from cannons mounted in the corners of the stadium and explosions of colour and booms of fireworks fired above the stadium roof.

Fireworks at Al Saad Stadium
Which left us still wondering what we had experienced and still bewildered about the fascination the media and public have with mass spectator sport.

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