Mid-winter, when I came to Qatar for the Doha Triathlon, was the ideal time to visit Qatar’s capital city, Doha. In the cooler months, Qatar’s temperatures stay the 60s and 70s, almost 50 degrees less than the oppressive summer temperatures when everyone who can clears out of the city.
While they prepare to host the 2022 World Cup, Doha is rapidly growing its hospitality sector and developing its cultural, recreational and restaurant attractions while it builds nine air-conditioned open soccer stadiums to accommodate the tournament.
Soccer and Politics
Now that Qatar has been awarded the World Cup, it has become a nation obsessed with the sport of soccer. The fans are passionate but, it being a dry Muslim country, it lacks the hooliganism one finds in the UK or EU. In Qatar, fans show their true disgust and anger by tossing sandals at the opposition.
My arrival in Qatar came shortly after Team Qatar won the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Final. The finals between Qatar and Japan were held on February 1, 2019 at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. UAE and Saudi Arabia media outlets didn’t report the result, focusing instead on Japan’s loss and not even mentioning Qatar. In fact, some media outlets had already stopped coverage of the Asian Cup after Qatar beat UAE 4-0 in the semifinals.
Not that Qatari soccer fans could attend their national team’s victory. They were barred from attending the tournament in the UAE due to ongoing political strife. In 2017, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a land, sea and air ban on Qatar after accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism and fostering ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and when I asked Qataris they attributed the blockade to jealousy over Qatar’s success. The ban prevents Qataris from making the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
With the blockade, Qatar’s leader, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, gained strong support. Qataris are proud of their independent stand against the regional boycott and the discrimination against them has made Qataris pull together that much more closely.
Doha’s impressive skyline, with the remarkable Doha Tower standing in center stage, is only outshined by the cultural, educational, medical and recreational assets that enrich this city of 2.7 million people. The Museum of Islamic Art, on an island built for the iconic I. M. Pei-designed structure, is as beautiful as much of the art it houses. And the grounds lure thousands on Fridays, the day of rest, when picnics, socializing, pop-up craft and food markets, dhow boat rides, kite flying and fishing are in full swing along the Corniche, the city’s main drag. Qatar’s National Museum, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, is soon to open and the unique structure is simply awesome.
Doha also houses Education City, dedicated to education and research with many international university campuses. In the 20th Century, the pearl trade helped establish the Arabian port as an important commercial center. Now the Pearl District is home to many of Doha’s professional expatriates, next to yachts, restaurants and many Western luxuries. But, to dive deep into true Doha, you need to seek out the markets and cafes of Souq Waqif and the nearby Falcon Souq, a market dedicated to its namesake bird. Qatar loves its falcons, so much so that Doha has nine separate falcon hospitals.
Qatar doesn’t love falcons alone among animals. It also adores its horses. In fact, the Emir’s stables, the Al Shaqab Equestrian Center, will make you want to be a horse. Tamim’s prize steeds are treated like athletes and receive the best of everything. In addition to the air-conditioned stables, the lucky horses who reside at Al Shaqab have access to a horse lap pool, a treadmill for ascending and descending work in this flat nation, and a jacuzzi. It’s a good life.
Qataris have access to cheap gas—and they know how to burn it. “Dune bashing” in off-road vehicles is a big pastime. Sealine Camp and the Khor Al Adaid (Inland Sea) are destinations where Doha residents set up lavish “camps” to escape city life and play in the sand.