Qatar in the final: the root of a new sports culture?

Qatar in the final: the root of a new sports culture?

With the entry into the final of the Asian Cup, the footballers Qatar celebrate the biggest success in their history. The host of the World Cup 2022 now hopes for a lasting effect in their own country. Felix Sanchez Bas clenched his fists. The coach of the Qatari national team allowed himself a short triumph, then he

With the entry into the final of the Asian Cup, the footballers Qatar celebrate the biggest success in their history. The host of the World Cup 2022 now hopes for a lasting effect in their own country.

Felix Sanchez Bas clenched his fists. The coach of the Qatari national team allowed himself a short triumph, then he went to the players, moving his outstretched hands from top to bottom. As if he wanted to dampen the excitement around him. His team had just won the semi-finals of the Asian Cup4-0 against the hosts, the United Arab Emirates. And in a climate of hostility: Thousands of spectators hooted against Qatar. Some even threw bottles and shoes on the lawn – a sign of deep aversion in the Arab world.

For days, the game had been called by media as a “blockade derby”. Because in June 2017, Saudi Arabia imposed a trade blockade on Qatar. One of the partners who also broke off relations with Doha: the Emirates. “It really was not easy,” said Qatar coach Sanchez after the semi-final. “But our players have their emotions well controlled.” There were virtually no Qatari fans in the stadiums throughout the tournament, and most of the players’ families stayed away.

Stage of self-assertion

In the days before the semi-final in Abu Dhabi, the local sports authority had distributed all remaining tickets to “loyal fans”. They had to identify themselves as citizens of the Emirates. Schools finished their classes two hours earlier Tuesday. In the quarter-final against South Korea spectators from Oman had cheered the 1-0 win Qatar – a repeat wanted to prevent the leadership in Abu Dhabi now. Also with warnings that a bias for Qatar could be punished legally.

Football AFC Asian Cup Qatar - UAE (picture-alliance / H. Ammar)Sign of contempt for the Qataris: projectiles on the stadium lawn in Abu Dhabi

Since the early afternoon thousands of men in traditional white robes shaped the stadium environment. This has little to do with social reality. Eighty percent of the population in the Emirates are migrant workers, but viewers from India or Pakistan were not welcome.

That the Qatari selection under these conditions celebrated their sixth victory in the sixth game of the tournament, with a goal balance of 16: 0, illustrates the athletic development. The final on Friday against Japan offers the Emirate isolated in the Gulf region a stage of self-assertion. “We have gained a lot of confidence,” said coach Sanchez. “But our achievements are no surprise, we worked hard for years.” The test matches before the Asian Cup against participants of the 2018 World Cup prove him right: 2: 2 against Iceland, 1: 0 against Switzerland.

Four international players were born abroad

Felix Sanchez Bas, 43 years old, began his career as a youth coach at FC Barcelona. In 2006, he moved to the “Aspire Academy” in Doha, one of the world’s largest training centers. Opened in 2004, the academy, with twelve football fields, is the center for the greatest talent scouting in football history, reports TV journalist Florian Bauer, who has researched several times in Qatar for ARD. Hundreds of thousands of adolescents have been observed in dozens of countries on three continents. The awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar in 2010 intensified the exchange with scientists and academies in Europe.

AFC Asian Cup | Saudi Arabia v Qatar (picture-alliance / Newscom / U. Pedersen)Goalkeeper Almoez Ali (r.) Has already scored eight times

Sanchez helped set up the system, taking over Qatar’s U19 selection in 2013 and leading them to the Asia Cup a year later. So he got to know the players in the academy, who currently form the framework of the A-national team. Since 2017 he looks after the selection, which has an average age of 24 years. Many of the 23 players in the squad have roots in other countries through their ancestors. But only four were not born in Qatar, including defender Ro-Ro, who grew up in Portugal, and Sudanese-born striker Almoez Ali. The 22-year-old scored eight goals at the Asian Cup.

 

National team hardly represents society

Europe’s football markets have long been wary of naturalization in Qatar. In Olympic sports, numerous athletes secured successes for Qatar, who had previously had no connections with the country. Particularly under surveillance: the Qatari handball national team that won silver at the 2015 World Cup with naturalized players. Numerous international associations covered their guidelines. FIFA rejected Qatar’s naturalization of footballers more than a decade ago. 2004 was the debate to bring the Brazilian Ailton to Doha.

Qatar Handball World Cup in Doha - Qatar Team (Getty Images / Bongarts / C. Koepsel)

Spiked with naturalized handball players: the Vice World Champion of 2015, Qatar 2015

Perhaps also because of the worldwide criticism, officials from Qatar meanwhile emphasize that one wants to strengthen the local talents. But the national team hardly represents the Qatari society. Of the 2.5 million inhabitants, only about ten percent have a Qatari passport, with the vast majority of them being immigrants from India, Nepal or Pakistan. Migrants must have lived in Qatar for 25 years in order to apply for citizenship. Their descendants may soon find it easier – if they attract attention through football. But even in this case, they would usually receive documents with restrictions. Access to state subsidies remains limited.

Only 15 percent of women do sports

Can the success of the Asian championship now lead to the expensive planned top football being given a base in society? “If Qatar wants to be successful in the long term, the country needs a sporting culture,” says political scientist Danyel Reiche of the American University of Beirut. Local clubs, recreational sports or casual street games are rare. According to a study by the National Olympic Committee Qatar, only 15 percent of Qatari women are physically active, but almost never in team sports. According to the World Health Organization, more than thirty percent of Qatari’s are overweight.

The Qatari channel Al Jazeera has since Tuesday repeatedly shown pictures of spectators who celebrated in Doha the goals of their team. They were not allowed to travel to Abu Dhabi for the semi-finals. Thus, a common narrative could soon change in the Western world: From the heavy Qatar, which does not take human rights seriously, in the perception may be the victim of envious neighbors such as Saudi Arabia. Whether this is the beginning of a football tradition will only become apparent when the domestic league attracts on average more than a few thousand spectators.

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