Sunday, November 20, 2016

Soccer in Qatar

Yes, soccer. I'm Canadian dang it and that’s what we call it.

One criticism some had about Qatar winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup was that it was not a “soccer nation” with a long history of success in the sport. It's definitely true that the country has not had a history of soccer success but bear in mind two things:

1) Qatar is a small country. Right now there are probably less than 300,000 citizens.

2) Wealth was a fairly recent phenomenon to the country. The first schools and hospitals were built in the 1950s, oil wealth didn't begin to really impact the country until the 1980s. There were little in the way of modern soccer facilities until then.

Nowadays many of the soccer players on the national team were originally from other countries, something the country wouldn't have been able to afford until the last couple of decades.

As for the people living here soccer is a popular pastime and one of the most popular sports. While the local league struggles with attendance (click on my “Qatar Football League” link on the right bar to get an idea) Qataris love following big European clubs, especially in the English Premier League. Big matches such as Champions League are widely followed. It's not something that I really follow myself but I do know many Qataris who love to follow soccer.

As for casual playing it's probably more popular than you'd realize given the imposing climate for most of the year, and what should be a lack of green space since the country is entirely desert. If you go to many of the stadiums there are usually other fields nearby that people can play on (such as the Al-Sadd Stadium, Qatar Sports Club or Lekhwiya). There are also areas with fields for “small soccer”. I know Al Sadd Stadium has some and I think there’s some in Markhiya as well.

Which brings me to why the heck I'm posting about soccer now. Last weekend some of my friends invited me out to practice some soccer, kicking the ball around and so forth. Now I know it sounds stereotypical but, as a Canadian, I didn't even really know how to play -- not the rules but how to actually run with the ball, kick the ball, defend etc. No skills. I think the last time I had kicked a soccer ball was in middle school and as I was never the athletic type it was something I didn't play outside of gym class. Soccer was more of a casual sport in Canada, something to do in the summer if you weren’t into street hockey. The sport is becoming more popular in Canada now but it still doesn't have anywhere near the same popularity as hockey or football.

So we went out onto a field, did a bit of jogging to warm up, and the guys started giving me tips as to how to kick the ball properly. We started passing the ball around back and forth, I wound up for a big kick to pass it to a friend farther down the field . . .

… and felt a sharp shocking pain in my upper leg. I had pulled a quad muscle kicking the ball.

Why hadn't anyone told me that could happen? We didn't even warm up our quads before playing. I hadn’t played for five minutes.

So I hobbled over to the bench and sat there with my leg aching. Spent the next couple of days resting and icing it and walking with a limp. It was a struggle to put socks and shoes on. Thankfully I think it was just a Level 1 sprain (there's levels for this, who knew?) because after 3 days I’d say it’s at around 80% now. Still a bit of pain if I move the leg up too much.

I think that was a hint that while soccer might be for Qataris it’s probably not for me. I might stick to squash and tennis.

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