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Sports in Qatar

With almost no wildlife left to hunt in their own country, Qataris have to go abroad to pursue the most famous and glamorous of traditional Arab sports: falconry. Camel and horse racing are also popular, although almost exclusively as spectator sports. Racing camels were traditionally ridden by extremely young foreign jockeys, but heightened sensitivity to Qatar’s image in the world press has led to their recent replacement by robots. Young Qataris get a kick out of driving their cars at high speed at night, competing with friends in showing off their most daring driving styles. Off-road driving in the desert is also a popular local activity.

Popular sports such as body building, football, and basketball are pursued mainly by boys and unmarried young men. The fact that so many Qataris are merely passive spectators instead of actively pursuing more physically demanding sporting activities, is not only due to cultural and climatic factors. The government’s policy of importing and nationalizing top class athletes from mainly East African countries with the aim of winning ‘Qatari’ medals in international sporting events, may also have something to do with it.

Qatar is a forerunner in the current trend for nations to acquire talented athletes. It literally bought its Olympic Team for Beijing 2008. Most prominent among these athletes is the Kenyan-born steeplechaser Stephen Cherono – now Saif Saaeed Shaheen – who was reportedly offered a USD 1,000 dollar monthly cheque for the rest of his life by the Qatari government. Likewise, the greatest stars and the coach of Qatar’s national football team were born in either Brazil or Uruguay.

The country is also eager to host major international sporting events. In 2006, it successfully hosted the Asian Games. Its bid for the 2016 Olympics was controversially turned down by the International Olympic Committee in the spring of 2008, but Crown Prince Tamim has vowed to bid again for 2020. Qatar won the bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The country currently hosts an annual International Sailing Regatta, the Tour of Qatar Cycling Race, the ExxonMobil Qatar Open Men’s Tennis Tournament, the Commercialbank Qatar Masters Golf Tournament, and a MotoGP at the Lusail racetrack – which is planned to be converted into a Formula 1-racetrack as soon as possible


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