The traditional sport of Saudi Arabia was camel racing and it is still popular in the Arab world. In recent times, football is regarded as national and most popular sport in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabian national football team is governed by Saudi Football Federation (SFF) founded in 1956. It is nicknamed as Al Suquou Al Khodhur meaning Green Folcons. The Saudi professional league is the highest level of competition in the country. Saudi Arabia is placed at 51 in the Federation International Football Association (FIFA) world ranking. Considered as one of Asia’s most successful national team, Saudi Arabia has won the AFC Asian Cup three times and qualified for the FIFA World Cup on six occasions. Women’s football is also played in Saudi Arabia. In February 2020, Saudi Arabia launched a football league for women with a long-term plan to allow the team to participate in the first FIFA Women’s World cup in the next 10 years.
In November this year, Saudi Arabia caused the most sensational upset of the FIFA World Cup beating Lionel Messi’s Argentina 2-1 in Qatar. The result propelled Saudi to top of Group C and also ended Argentina’s 36 game unbeaten streak. Messi opened scoring for Argentine but in second-half Saudi Arabia goals caused a tremendous world cup upset. Saleh Alshehri and Salem Aldawsari were the goal scorers for Saudi Arabia. Celebrations erupted throughout the Muslim nations particularly the capital Reyad after the final whistle blew, with fans forming impromptu dance circles and waving the national flag from the windows of speeding cars. To commemorate their historic victory, a national holiday was declared by Saudi King Salman on November 23, 2022. This year’s World Cup is certainly like no other before it. It is the first to be held in a Muslim country and Qatar has gone a long way to give the event a distinctly Arab and Muslim flavor.
Saudis are crazy for football. It reminds me the days when I was in Saudi Arabia. A football ground in the vicinity of my hospital, king Abdul Aziz (Al Zahir), the biggest hospital of Makkah city. During Hajj season, the hospital used to witness huge rush of patients from across the world and the external staff especially from all cities of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Philippines, nearest all neighbouring countries were being pulled out to our hospital. The experience, exposure, sharing of one another's cultural beliefs and discos was a heavenly feeling. I can’t express in my words.
I still remember the football lovers playing throughout the night and they were crazy for it like anything. Then we were used to handle those fracture cases severe in nature and difficult to handle those crazy football lovers and during FIFA world cup. I used to be there only in the night shift and all my fellow male colleagues with me announced that it will shut down nearly at 4 or 5 p.m. I answered why so and the one young boy among them, one of my fellow colleagues, in the shift namely Ali told me “Masarat you don't know what is today.” I told him “why are you asking like that”. He replied “You are not from this world.” I said why? He replied “today is the final match of FIFA World Cup and we are going to go crazy just after half an hour”. Everybody picked up their laptops, shut the doors and it was just like a strike in the hospital. Everybody with their soft drinks, chips enjoyed watching FIFA World Cup. It was the golden period of my bachelor life which I will never forget in my life till my last breath.
This year’s world cup is certainly like no other before it. It is the first to be held in a Muslim country and Qatar has gone a long way to give the event a distinctly Arab and Muslim flavour. In the run up to the tournament, Western media coverage has been dominated by the controversies surrounding the event rather than the sport itself. Britans public broadcaster, the BBC, refrained from airing the opening ceremony on television, opting instead to cover criticism of the host nation. The BBC said it did broadcast the ceremony on their video-on-demand service. The Bedouin-themed opening ceremony began with a female singer donning a traditional Burqa, a kind of face covering that has been banned in several European countries. It also cited a verse from the Quran about God creating humanity into “Nations & Tribes” so they can get to know each other. In a statement to CNN Qatar's Supreme Committee (SC) said it was committed to “an inclusive and discriminatory free world cup. Everyone is welcomed in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon. We simply ask for people to respect our culture”. World may be thinking Saudi a conservative society, but this upset in FIFA world cup must have opened their mind about the Arab nations.
(Author is a postgraduate of pharmacy and former tutor of J&K Health Department)