Thursday 22 December 2022

Wear it like Messi: meet the football fans making the most of Qatari culture

Where Lionel Messi treads others try to follow. His wearing of the traditional Arab bisht, however, was a step too far for some who felt it sullied the greatest moment in his footballing career.

That sentiment hasn't been shared by thousands of football fans who have remained in Qatar beyond the World Cup final. 

Many have stayed put because of flight schedules while others have chosen to spend more time in the country. 

Whatever the reason, there's been no shortage of foreigners getting up close and personal with Qatari culture. 

Last weekend I met a  group of four men in striped blue and white Arab clothes, the colour of their country’s national football shirt, with matching blue head scarves, walking in the Souq Waqif area. 

Onlookers stopped to take selfies with them. 

Behind them was another group clad in Croatia-themed clothes. Again people moved towards them to take their pictures. 

Dozens of fans have followed suit, soaking themselves in Arab culture during the FIFA World Cup 2022. 

The long-sleeved, ankle-length Arab robes known as 'thobes' caught the attention of foreign fans attending the World Cup. They donned them with a ‘ghutra’, the traditional Arabic head scarf, also known as ‘shemagh’ or ‘keffiyeh’, and the small woven ring, ‘igal’.

In fact, La’eeb, the World Cup 2022 mascot, symbolises the traditional ghutra and igal of the Gulf region. The mascot can be seen almost everywhere in the country in the form of posters, stickers, paintings, filters, and screensavers.

"La'eeb is a fun and mischievous character who comes from the mascot-verse, a parallel world where all tournament mascots live," notes FIFA. "La'eeb can be a figment of your imagination. He is whoever a football fan wants him to be," it adds.

Thobes and ghutras in 32 colours

The narrow pathways of Souq Waqif, the traditional market in the capital city, bustle with vendors retailing headscarves. 

They are widely available in the team colours of all the 32 nations playing in the tournament. The traders press and tuck them neatly, carefully fitting the scarf to the buyer’s head. Some do it in the cobra style, as worn by Qatari men, while others wrap it around the head like a turban.

The price of a white thobe ranges between QAR 80 (€21) and QAR 120 (€31) depending on its quality. 

“Thobes are in demand now. Foreign fans want them in their team colour. If they are made from cotton they cost more,” said Mohamed, a vendor.

The headscarves traditionally come in different colours and have a significant meaning associated with them. For instance, a white ghutra symbolises purity, a red and white checkered ghutra indicates patriotism, while a black and white ghutra represents freedom.

Visitors from England, the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, and others have cheered on their national teams while donning Arab styles of clothing. While men have been parading in remodeled versions of traditional Arab thobes and headdresses, some women have been wearing hijabs.

“I wanted to try the local culture by wearing the traditional dress. It is nice to try new things in a new country,” says Carlos, a fan from Brazil, wearing a headdress with yellow, green, and blue with a matching green igal. 

“People, especially locals, are amused by my look. Many of them often stop me to take a selfie,” he adds.

"It’s an amazing gesture"

The nationals have welcomed fans with open arms to try their traditional dress in their preferred color and style. 

“It’s nice to see my culture adopted by them. They are wearing our traditional clothes and they’ll take our culture back home. Even if it’s for a week or two, it’s nice to see them in thobes. I like it,” says Abdullah Alkurbi.

Qatari citizens have been happy seeing how international fans are impressed with the Arab culture. They feel fans wearing the national dress is quite endearing. 

“I can see that fans are adoring our traditional clothing and enjoy our local food,” says Abdulla AlMesleh.

The hijab, the traditional headscarf, also became a trendy World Cup wear among non-Muslim female visitors. Various videos online show international fans wearing colorful headscarves. 

The headscarf is often depicted in Western media as a symbol of illiteracy, ignorance, and backwardness, and it remains to be seen whether fans wearing it will change this notion.

For now, Qatari women are happy that other women are trying their clothing. 

“Non-Muslim fans wearing hijab is an amazing gesture. It is a very different and positive thing,” says Aljazi Altlenzab.

"Respect the local culture"

The query regarding what to wear while in Qatar had created concern for female fans even long before the World Cup kicked off. Different fan groups on social media had advised visitors from wearing shorts and revealing clothes.

The Qatar tourism website had advised the visitors “to show respect for the local culture by avoiding excessively revealing clothes in public”, and recommended both men and women “to ensure their shoulders and knees are covered.”

“At first, it was portrayed as like you could not walk around sleeveless if you had tattoos and stuff like that. And it's nothing like that here,” says Ronaldo, a fan from North London.

A mix of tradition and modernity

There’s more to this peninsula than meets the eye, from swanky malls to pristine beaches to distinctive dunes.

“We saw Lusail Marina and Lusail City and were surprised. It is very beautiful, very modern,” says Gonzalo Olivares, a fan from Argentina.

While some like Pearl Island's colourful buildings and vibrant surroundings, others are smitten by the old feel of Souq Waqif. 

“I would really like to go to the Pearl again. It’s nice. It felt like you were in Venice. And the Souq is cool. Also, it’s kind of travelling in time a little bit. You can kind of see both ends of the spectrum, modern Qatar and the older Qatar,” says Rodrigo, who travelled all the way from Brazil to witness his third World Cup.

There are a few fans who haven’t had enough time to soak themselves in places other than stadiums. But most of them have not missed Souq Waqif, the traditional market in central Doha.

“I don’t think we’ve done much, but games. But, everyone’s very focused now, saying wherever you go you’ll be watching a game and you’ll have different fans there as well,” says Martin, who flew down from Sydney, Australia, and managed to watch 20 matches in 15 days.

Arab cuisine

Hundreds of fans packed into Lebanese, Persian, Yemeni, Egyptian, and Moroccan restaurants to taste Arabic food in the city. 

“We tried so many amazing Lebanese dishes and things like that. The cuisine was incredible and surprising. I want to continue to explore more and more Armenian and other types of cuisine within the region,” added Rodrigo.

Echoing her joy in being able to visit Qatar to witness the World Cup, Sophia from Brasilia praised the diversity she has been seeing during her stay in Qatar.

“The people here are very kind. I really enjoy Arabic bread with hummus and baba ghanoush. I will take some baklava back home for my family and friends,” Sophia adds.

Impressed by the development

Several fans say they have great respect for the Arab culture and have found love and respect in the peninsula. They are surprised to see the development in such a short span of time. 

“It’s really impressive that they were able to build this in such a short amount of time. We could take some lessons like this back home to try to, invest a little bit in infrastructure and make things a little bit easier for things back at home,” feels Rodrigo.

Many fans came with an open mind and are happy about their visit. 

“I didn't really take what the media had to say about the place. I'm very happy with the experience so far. I haven't heard anything bad from any of the fans either,” says Martin.

(Source: Euro News)

Tuesday 6 December 2022

World Cup football fever spreads among 'real deal' Indian fans in Qatar and beyond

World Cup: No, Indian fans who marched in Doha are not fake

It’s Friday, and it’s the weekend. Everyone has a big smile on their face as they sing and dance. Little children sitting on their fathers’ shoulders wave their hands with glee. Thousands of Indians, especially from the southern state of Kerala, descended on the Corniche to take part in the parade supporting football teams.

Wearing their favourite side's shirts, they beat drums and blew horns. They raised slogans and carried flags of their beloved teams from the Flag Plaza to the Countdown Clock Qatar's capital city.

Tito K. Sidharthan, who was on the Corniche with his family, sums up the feeling of everyone who participated in the march. “It was just awesome. There were thousands of supporters like me, and I feel so happy to be a part of the parade. I would never miss a chance to show my love and support for Brazil.”

‘Qatar is like a second home’

Several journalists and commentators on social media have questioned if the Indians were “real fans”. They were even accused of being paid to wear the shirts of Brazil, Argentina, and England to promote the tournament. However, supporters who participated in the rally strongly denied all the allegations levelled against them.

“The claims are totally false and motivated. Since childhood, I’ve supported Argentina. Even if I was elsewhere, I would have joined the march to back Messi’s team,” says Brijesh K. Das, who has been living in Qatar since 2002.

“Qatar is like a second home to me. I even participated in the parade at Lusail Boulevard to support the national team,” he adds.

Allegations denied

The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy also rejected the allegations and issued a statement backing the contribution of these fans. It pointed out that there are several football fans in the country sharing emotional connections with various nations.

“In different places around the world, fans have different traditions, different ways to celebrate, and while that may contrast with what people are used to in Europe or South America, it doesn’t mean the passion for football is any less authentic,” the statement says.

Top buyers of tickets

The small peninsula is home to more than 750,000 Indians in the country’s population of 2.9 million. Qatar residents have been one of the top buyers of tickets purchased for the World Cup. Most of the tickets priced at €10.60 were grabbed by resident Indians. According to FIFA, Qatar alone has purchased 947,846 tickets for the tournament. Many Keralites have travelled to Qatar to watch the matches live.

Mohammed Rishwan K.S., an entrepreneur from Palakkad, bought tickets three months ago and has waited for the remarkable event ever since. He is among several fans in the state who are ardent football followers, even though the India team is 106th in FIFA’s ranking.

“I have watched three matches so far. All the eight stadiums are located within a 50-52 km radius of Doha and are easy to reach,” Rishwan says. He would have loved to stay back to watch more matches had he not “got some important commitments back home”, he adds.

Brazil weds Argentina

Many streets of Kerala are now decked up with cut-outs, posters, and banners of every team. Houses, cars, and even auto rickshaws are painted in the colours of Brazil and Argentina. Fans get together to cheer the teams and sing anthems.

The craze is so high before every World Cup that half of the state supports Brazil while the other half backs Argentina.

This season also saw a musical tribute to the World Cup. Malayalam actor Mohanlal in collaboration with director T.K. Rajeev Kumar released a video, which throws light on the state's love for the sport.

But this love affair is nothing new. Back in 2018 as football fans headed to Russia, World Cup fever gripped the country, and one couple took their obsession a step further by choosing a football theme for their wedding. 

As a supporter of Argentina, Jobin from Thrissur married Irene at a wedding hall decorated with balloons, festoons, bunting, and banners in blue and white. 

The wedding cake resembled the Argentinian flag, and guests were served by staff wearing Argentina jerseys.

Cut-out frenzy

A cut-out war began in the state when Argentinian fans installed a nine-metre-tall cut-out of Messi on a small islet in Kurungattu Kadavu river in Pullavoor village in Kozhikode district. As a response, the rival Brazil fans set up a 12-metre-high image of Neymar Jr on the banks of the river. 

Later, both were overshadowed by a 14-metre-tall model of Cristiano Ronaldo in his Portugal jersey. The cut-out war went viral and was tweeted by the FIFA official handle, “#FIFAWorldCup fever has hit Kerala”.

The cutout frenzy has its critics too. “Almost every main road and side street have tall cut-outs of the football stars. This has extended to the rivers too as every football fan club is on a thinking spree to outwit and overdo what its rival does. I wonder how we would be disposing of all the accumulated garbage once this frenzy is over,” Hariharan S., a visual artist from Palakkad said.

Sadly, the rivalry erupted into violence. Police made several arrests for unruly behaviour during rallies. There was also a clash between supporters of Argentina and Brazil during a parade in Kollam just before the start of the World Cup. 

Videos on Twitter show the supporters of both teams beating each other with flags, sticks, and iron pipes.

Fans buy house to watch football

A group of 17 football fans from the small village of Mundakkamugal in the Kochi district purchased a house for €27,000 to watch the World Cup games with friends. The group includes supporters of Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, and France. They decorated the house with the flags of the 32 participating teams and adorned the walls with portraits of Messi and Neymar.

According to India's national news agency, ANI, Shafeer P.A., one of the buyers, said they "will make arrangements for visitors of all generations to come here and enjoy the game together”. They have been celebrating every match for the past 15 years and want to continue.

It is not unusual for Kerala and its people to cling to the World Cup every season. The state in the cricket-crazy country is so obsessed with the game that even the government announced ‘One Million Goals’, a scheme to train school children in football.

(Source: Euro News)