Qatar’s friends snatch political gains from the jaws of defeat | sports



Qatar's friends snatch a political victory from the jaws of defeat

sAtarian businessman Youssef El-Taher gathered 10 of his friends in his desert oasis to watch the national team’s last-minute attempt to stay in the World Cup end in defeat.

He said sternly that Senegal’s 3-1 victory did not matter, as the group absorbed the early exit from the competition, which Qatar had spent tens of billions of dollars on.

Qatar was the “winner” simply for its participation in the 32-nation event that is expected to bring more than a million fans to the Gulf country, according to the 53-year-old businessman.

The real victory is hosting the World Cup successfully.

“It is enough to be proud today that the whole world is watching us.”

Taher invites his friends to a men-only hangout on his palm-fringed farm in Jumailiya, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Doha. The farm in the desert produces tomatoes, cucumbers and dates.

A large Qatar flag hung over the vast building, flanked by smaller flags of Brazil, France, Saudi Arabia and other World Cup nations.

Inside, comfortable seats were lined up in front of a giant screen.

But while in Europe armchair lovers might feast on beer and pancakes, Taher and his friends drank dates and sipped Arabic coffee and tea. Pictures of the Emir of Qatar and his father stared at them.

“Qatar is participating for the first time and we are proud whether it wins or not,” said Taher, dressed in a traditional white Arab abaya.

Sports historian Sultan Al Jassim said, “Qatar has become the focus of the world’s attention.

“In the past, half of the world did not know where Qatar was.

“Qatar is now the most famous country in the world to host this tournament,” said the 59-year-old.

The group shouted “Haram!” (a disgrace) when the referee refused a penalty kick in the first half.

In the first half, with Qatar trailing by a goal, Taher and his friends joined the farm workers from his house to perform afternoon prayers at a mosque adjacent to his house.

They cheered when Mohamed Muntari scored Qatar’s first World Cup goal. Their hearts sank when Senegal made it 3-1.

After losing to Ecuador in their opening match, there was no hope of the Asian champions reaching the second round.

Taher’s brother, diplomat Nasir al-Taher, found the right words.

“We are not waiting for a sporting victory, we have already achieved a political, social and economic victory,” said the 63-year-old.

He said the World Cup “put Qatar on the world map”.

Since winning the tournament in 2010, Qatar has faced intense criticism over women’s rights, the LGBT community, and its treatment of migrant workers. Its leaders said “racism” and “double standards” were behind the attacks.

“Criticism is what drives us to progress. On the contrary, it is natural and healthy for us to accept criticism and then adjust the course,” Taher said.

Qatar criminalizes homosexuality. Jassim supported the government’s position that “everyone is welcome” but Qatar’s culture must be respected.

“There are red lines,” he said.

But Jassim acknowledged that preparing for the World Cup had changed the face of Qatar.

With the construction of a new metro system, hotels, major roads, stadiums, and office skyscrapers, “As a Qatari, I am amazed to see something new every day.

“The World Cup has developed our country’s capabilities,” he added.

Silence engulfed the hall after the final whistle, but Taher sought to lift the gloom with a dash of optimism.

“The honor of organizing is a crown and a trophy for us. We are winners despite the loss.” –AFP


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