How Migrant Workers Introduced Football in Qatar

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footballers at Dukhan oil field
Footballers at Dukhan oil field tournament in 1950s.

Nearly 1.5 billion football fans have descended on the tiny desert state of Qatar, to enjoy and participate in 28 days of football frenzy. The opening match kicked off on November 20, at the Al Bayt Stadium. But, when and how did the desert peninsula first come across the beautiful game? That was nearly 75 years ago. 

 

In 1948 around 75 Indian workers from Mumbai arrived in Doha by boat. Back then Qatar was a sparsely populated territory surrounded by the desert. The Indian workers had arrived to join the Dukhan oil facility, the first significant oil reserve in the region. It started production in the 1940s. Dukhan is an industrial city located in the western region of Qatar, about 80 km from Doha via the Dukhan Highway. However, in 1948 There were no roads linking Dukhan to Doha.

The Indian workers were mostly semi-skilled professionals engaged in catering and clerical jobs like managing reports, typing letters, serving food and cleaning the premises. 

al bayt stadium
Al Bayt Stadium, the venue of World Cup 2022 opening ceremony.

The oil company was run largely by officers based in Britain and the higher management at the fields also comprised mostly British officers. These officers would often get bored after work. There was not much to do in Dukhan. The most popular sport of Qatar was camel racing, a medieval sporting event. Some of these officers had a ball. They used sacks as makeshift goalposts and started kicking the ball after work, around the fields outside the facility. The Indian workers soon joined them. The British engineers as well as the Indian workers were working in grueling shifts to start oil production. But after work hours, football flourished. 

Few people in Qatar were familiar with the game of football in the 1940s. But the unusual sight of British officers and Indian workers playing an alien game amused them. Soon enough, the local people started taking serious interest in the game. It was not long before the first football team of Qatar, Al-Najah was formed (in 1950). Gradually leagues and cup tournaments were organised and football grew into a much larger phenomenon. With time more and more Britishers moved in and football became a common fixture. As per official and personal records, between 1951 and 1953 football leagues and trophies were regularly organised at the oil fields. So, that is how football was introduced in Qatar.

Qatar has come a long way since then. Football is now the most popular sport in the country. Qatar Stars League or QSL is a glamorous league tournament that has twelve clubs participating in it. Its first official season was played in 1972, twenty four years after the first ball was kicked in the country. The sleepy desert village of Dukhan is now a flourishing industrial town. It is also home to the Dukhan Football Club also known as DFC. The club was established in 2012 by expats of Nepalese origin. 

The World Cup in Qatar is thus a testimony to the blood and sweat of British and Indian migrant workers who thankfully had nothing to amuse themselves with, after work.

Sources: Daily Mail
Images courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

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