23 Oct 2013 15:00
While the world is busy discussing if World Cup 2022 should be taken away from Qatar or
moved to the winter, people in Qatar are busy playing football. Fans are attending games in
during the Qatar stars league, children are training in clubs and grown ups are playing in amateur leagues. With the time of 8.5 or 8 years to wait depending on the decision by FIFA, there is enough time to improve the football culture in Qatar and remove all the negative expectations about 2022.
Qatar is a country of only 2,042,444 people (July 2013 est.) which includes only 15% Qataris. The rest is expats mainly from other Arabic countries, Philippines and Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan. With the future of Qatar, a future of expansion (4.19% growth rate), and thereby more foreigners, Qatar will be an even more multicultural country.
Football culture was introduced to Qatar in the 1940s and 1950s by oil workers from Europe. The Qatar Stars League (QSL) is the highest professional league in Qatari football with its first season played in 1963 and now in 2013, featuring 14 clubs with one club demoted to second.
From the beginning of the establishment of the league, it had problems attracting spectators even with high profile players like Raul, Pep Guardiola and Gabriel Batistuta. With only around 300.000 Qataris, expatriates must be brought in to increase the numbers. The official attendance is over 5000 in average but that is impossible with such a small population. Slovenia, a country with
similar population as Qatar (but almost all are Slovenians compared to Qatar) had an average of 530 spectators in the 2012/13 season.
The attendance in Qatar is probably similar (if not a bit lower) but a lot more loud; as singing through a megaphone and playing the drums throughout the game are common.
Qatar Football Assocation (QFA) and Qatar Stars League (QSL) have started a number
of initiatives to improve the attendance: relations with schools and embassies, various
communities, a fan club where you get points for watching a game and is offering price bonuses at some of the games. The initiatives have attracted more spectators but getting people to the stadium is a change of culture in a country where football is mostly watched at home, in front of the TV.
There are mainly 3 groups of fans with their own characteristics. Sometimes, depending on the club, are all present at games. Local fans are mostly fans paid to attend the games. There are fan coordinators who coordinate the cheering, singing and clapping and who circulate among the different clubs.
A band is playing local songs on drums and one or 2 fans is singing through out the whole game. Saadi Ahmed Al-Essa, a local who had paid for his ticket, at Al Sadd against Qatar SC, is going with his 2 children when there is a bigger game but he prefers to see the game in person.
The Asians represent the largest group of fans at most games. Khalil Khandoker is a Bangladeshi citizen, working in Qatar for a construction company. He is a the stadium for the game with some of his friends. Watching football is one of the cheapest activities possible for him in Doha ( a ticket is around 3 dollars) but mostly they do get free tickets.
The atmosphere is good he think with the dancing from the Africans and the music from
the locals. Asians are more quiet than the other groups but still clap and cheer during the game.
African spectators are coming to watch the games of the clubs with African players and if they live around one of the stadiums. African spectators are like they are at home: dancing and cheering in the most wonderful way. It seems they came to the stadium for the party and not the game.
With African spectators, Asians and locals on a stadium the atmosphere is energetic and loud: music, clapping, singing and dancing. Nnakeme Adeyemi, a Nigerian fan, at Al Wakrah against Al Sadd, is mostly at the stadium because of his friends and not the
football. But the atmosphere is good and he will surely return.
Compared to countries of similar size the Qatar Stars League has an attendance which is reasonable, and as anybody who has attended a game includes more singing and drumming from the spectators than similar crowds across the world.
Qatar Stars League will never be like Premier League in England but with the interest of Qataris, expats and initiates will be an attractive experience before 2022 World Cup.