The small State of Qatar has quickly risen from not being heard of, to becoming the sports capital of the middle east.
Looking at Qatar’s sports scene today, it is hard to imagine that the peninsula didn’t have any organized or competitive sports widely practiced before the 20th century. While the people of Qatar were cheering on foreign teams, some aged older than the country itself, it has become the sports capital of the Middle East and a key player within international sports.
Organized and competitive sports as we know them today were introduced to Qatar simultaneously with the oil boom. History has it, that the first football match, Qatar’s most popular sport, was played in 1948, when a group of oil workers got together and organized a game.
As the country is preparing to become the first nation in the Middle East to host the FIFA World Cup, the world’s biggest football and sporting event, in 2022, it has caught public attention. But what might have gone unnoticed, is the fact that Qatar has been hosting more international and regional tournaments and championships than any other country in the region, and more than most countries in the world.
There are several factors that has lead to Qatar’s rapid growth into the world sports scene. Of course, money is a key factor. They have the money to build and buy anything they could possibly imagine, but what is money without vision and innovation?
Having spent billions into building sports academies, stadiums and facilities, training athletes and promoting events, the country is today home to one of the region’s biggest sports culture.
Sports Popular in Qatar
Football prevails as the most played and most watched sport in Qatar, both on a domestic and international level.
The country’s top tier professional football league is know as the Qatar Stars League and is played by 14 club teams. Al Sadd, the country’s most successful sports club, have won the continental club competition twice and is known internationally for signing superstars like the former Real Madrid and Spain striker Raul Gonzalez (2012-2014) and former FC Barcelona and Spain legend Xavi in July 2015.
Other famous footballers that have played professionally in Qatar include, the current manager of Manchester City Pep Guardiola, the twelfth-highest scorer of all-time in the Italian Serie A Gabriel Batistuta, former Ajax and FC Barcelona midfielder Ronald de Boer, and Fernando Hierro who played for the Spanish national team on more than 90 occasions.
The five-player indoor variant of Football, Futsal, is also a very popular sport in Qatar and is played both recreationally and professionally.
Other sports popular in the country include athletics, basketball, handball, volleyball, camel racing, horse racing, cricket and swimming, while taekwondo/judo, fencing, hockey, tennis and table tennis have been gaining particular popularity in recent years.
With a lot of money to spare, Qatar is home to some of the world’s most modern and advanced sports facilities. Besides having more than 16 football stadiums and expecting 9 more to be built in the near future, the capital Doha is home to the Aspire Zone Foundation, also known as Doha Sports City.
The 2.5-square kilometer complex in Doha includes the 50,000-seat Khalifa International Stadium, Hamad Aquatic Center, which includes an Olympic-size swimming pool, Aspire Dome, the world’s largest indoor multi-purpose sports hall, Aspetar, a specialised orthopaedic and sports medicine hospital, and Aspire Academy, a leading sports development academy.
Luckily, the money and effort the country has invested into sports is paying off. Qatari athletes are carrying their national flag high and proud at many sporting events around the world, and are bringing home medals and achievements with them.
When it comes to Qatari national teams, many have made a name by achieving some impressive results in regional and international competitions. The national football teams has won the Gulf Cup 3 times, in 1992, 2005 and 20015. The youth team has also proven to be a tough contender after they reached the final of the 1981 FIFA World Youth Championship, finishing second by losing 4-0 to West Germany.
The Qatari national basketball team has won two bronze medals, in 2003 and 2005, at the Asian Basketball Championship, and the national handball team finished second at the 2015 World Handball Championship.
Qatar’s Olympic debut was in 1984 at the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Since then, the country has been represented in 9 Summer Olympic Games, and has brought back one silver and four bronze medals.
Two years before their first Olympics appearance, Qatar participated in the Asian Games for the first time. They have amassed a total of 107 medals throughout their history at the games, 37 gold, 27 silver and 43 bronze.
Hosting of International and Regional Events
But still, participating in a bunch of competitions and bringing back medals doesn’t qualify a country to be called a sports capital. However, Qatar has done a lot more than that.
Over the years, the country has become a popular host to several international and regional competitions like the World Men’s Handball Championship, AFC Asian Cup, Asian Indoor Athletics Championships, Asian Basketball Championships, Artistic Gymnastics World Cup, and the unforgettable 2006 Asian Games, the biggest sporting event ever hosted in Qatar.
However, what really makes Qatar the sports capital of the Middle East, is the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Qatar will be the smallest country by area to ever host the World Cup, as well as the first in the Middle East and the Arab World.
Since 2010, the country has dedicated tens of billions of dollars into mega-projects in preparations. By 2022, they will have built new hotels, stadiums and upgraded the nation’s infrastructure.
The 2022 World Cup will also see Qatar’s first participation in the tournament, since host nations qualify by default.