The hidden history of sport in Qatar

Qatar is preparing to host one of the biggest global events, the FIFA World Cup 2022, but the Gulf country’s passion for the world of sports started very early on and it has done a tremendous job in developing and establishing itself as a Middle East sports hub. Here are some memorable moments:

cover PHOTO: 
A friendly Boxing match between Muhammad Ali and the Alonzo Johnson in Doha Stadium in 1971, 
©Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum


Muhammad Ali visits Qatar

“I’ve enjoyed my stay, and I’m going to go back and tell all of the Muslims in America how many brothers they have all throughout the world”

— Muhammad Ali

In 1971 legendary world champion boxer Muhammad Ali graced Qatar during his Arab Tour leading up to his fight against Joe Frazier. He held an exhibition match in a fully packed Doha Stadium, which was the first playground in Qatar. The event was in patronage of Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al Thani, the then Minister of Education and chairman of the Youth Board.

After Ali showcased his talent and footwork in the match, he went on to give a short speech thanking people for attending and thanking the country for inviting him.

“I’ve enjoyed my stay, and I’m going to go back and tell all of the Muslims in America how many brothers they have all throughout the world and also show them my films and pictures of how I was received here, thank you,” the renowned boxer said.

This helped introduce Qatar and the region to the sport of boxing. Qatar competed in boxing on the world stage at the Olympic Games Rio in 2016 and also hosted the 2015 AIBA World Boxing Championship at the Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiya Arena.


Pelé is welcomed in Qatar

“Qatar is capable of hosting a wonderful World Cup. It has the right to host the World Cup and it will definitely succeed in this”

— Pelé

Another iconic legend visited Qatar in 1973 — three-time World Cup champion, Brazilian footballer, Pelé was welcomed in Qatar to play a friendly match against the Al Ahli team at the Doha Stadium.

It was clear from early on that Qatar wanted to develop its sports scene, especially in football so hosting this legend was a very exciting time for the small Gulf peninsula.

Qatar’s history in football started off in the 1940s and developed into amateur games in the 50s. They eventually built a new stadium called the Khalifa International Stadium where many international competitions and matches were held. The country is now the host for the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Pelé visited Qatar multiple times after that. When he was asked about Qatar hosting the World Cup he said, “Qatar is capable of hosting a wonderful World Cup. It has the right to host the World Cup and it will definitely succeed in this.”


Cricket comes to Qatar

Cricket started in the Khalifa Stadium car park in 1977 and quickly gained traction. By 1980, twelve teams were created to form the Qatar Cricket Association (QCA). The game continued to gain popularity until eventually teams were created to fit into the criteria of International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Asian Cricket Council (ACC).

Qatar then went on to win the Under-15 ACC Challenge Cup in 2007. That same year, the QCA established their first female team who went on to participate in the ACC Under-19 tournaments in December 2008.

Cricket has now become the second most popular sport in Qatar after football. This is due to the large South Asian expat population in the country who share a love for the game. Acknowledging the demand, Qatar established a few cricket grounds, including the Asian Town Cricket Stadium and the Qatar Foundation Cricket Ground.

QCA teams have participated in major competitions locally and internationally, and Qatar aims to host the Cricket World Cup one day.


Qatar makes it to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup final

The Under-20 FIFA World Cup was held in Australia in 1981. During this event, Qatar surprised many when it defeated Brazil (3-2) and England (2-1) in the finals before they lost the match against West Germany. The main scorer during these finals was Badr Bilal, he played for local team Al Sadd and is currently a sports analyst. This was an eye-opening experience for Qatar further pushing them to continue investing in youth football.

In 1984 Qatar qualified for their first Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles playing against France for the opening. They tied 2-2 but were eliminated after losing in the group stages.

Other football achievements for Qatar since then include hosting the 1988 AFC Asian Cup, reaching the quarter finals of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, hosting the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 1995, hosting the 2006 Asian Games and the 2010 confirmation that Qatar is going to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.


Qatar wins the Arabian Gulf Cup

Qatar not only hosted the 11th Arabian Gulf Cup, but also ended up winning it for the first time too. Qatar then went on to win two more Gulf Cup titles after this.

Qatar, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia usually take part in the cup, but in this particular year Iraq was not invited due to the invasion of Kuwait.

The tournament is usually held every other year, but this varies depending on the political situation of the countries involved.