Published May 25, 2010 - Muscat Daily
Brace yourselves everyone! The excitement is building up. On June 11, the world's attention will be shifted to Johannesburg, South Africa, for the start of the most watched sporting competition in the world. One of my soccer-fanatic colleagues has a chart on the wall in his office. Every day he stares at his chart with a glazed look and ticks off yet another day. Then he turns to me and enthusiastically proclaims 'Only 'x' more days till the World Cup'! I often wonder what reaction he expects from me. Usually he gets a blank stare. You can't blame me. I'm a woman.
I can almost understand soccer mania when Oman is involved. The crazy happiness Omanis felt when our national soccer team won the 19th Gulf Cup last year was phenomenal. We felt united. Traffic stopped for hours. Hundreds of thousands of people were in the streets celebrating in all corners of Oman. It made me feel proud and it all made sense. Hey, we even we got a national holiday. Another cause for celebration!
However, as a young woman who is not a huge soccer fan, I fail to understand why so many would be so obsessed with an event happening so far away, which should have no effect whatsoever on Oman. I've seen men get into serious fights over which team to support. Will it be Brazil? Italy? Spain? Will Algeria, the only Arab country participating, survive? People I know are already starting up support groups on Facebook, and I'm pretty sure I heard a shopkeeper this afternoon singing 'Waving Flag', one of the more catchy World Cup 2010 songs.
My brother and his friends have clubbed together to rent a piece of land near the mountains, set up a tent, and buy a generator. One of them is bringing his flat-screen TV, another is bringing a receiver and the bunch of them are going to basically camp out on the plain for a whole month until the World Cup is over. They've been planning this for weeks, in detail. Why a tent, you may wonder? Well, evidently they are sure that the shisha cafes that usually host soccer matches are going to be overflowing with soccer fans. Getting a seat will be impossible. Anyone in the restaurant business with a huge outdoor screen is going to be making a lot of money next month in Salalah. No doubt about that!
The male population of Dhofar has always been into soccer. I supposed it's because the idea of children having 'toys' is still a relatively new concept here. From around the time boys are toddlers, they start playing with a ball. When I was young, the neighborhood boys my age used to spend every afternoon outside playing soccer barefoot, in the dirt. They never got bored and never gave up. To this very day, the same groups of boys still play soccer on a daily basis. And of course the new generation is out there now too. If you cruise around Salalah in the late afternoon, you are bound to spot a heated soccer match, complete with a crowd of dusty spectators, almost every time you turn a corner. And these matches hardly ever take place on proper soccer fields. Most Dhofari boys and men play in paved parking lots, on empty plots of land, or on the beach. Hardly any other sport is practiced at this end of the country. They're just very passionate about soccer. (Mind you, there isn't much else to do, so it's great to see how much they enjoy their game!
So, back to World Cup mania. The men in my life have been trying to enlighten me but I still don't fully understand why someone would actually (yes, really!) postpone their wedding to avoid clashes with the World Cup schedule. Nor do I understand why someone would save up their holidays and take the entire month off to watch the matches. To me it seems like a waste of precious annual leave.
However, despite my ignorance, I guess I'm going to have to keep track of who wins what match, and when, in order to avoid going out onto the streets at the wrong time and being engulfed by cavalcades of crazed boys singing and beeping their horns while hanging out of the windows of their cars and pick-up trucks. I'll also have to make sure I don't say the wrong thing to a colleague the morning after. I'm going to have to congratulate the soccer fanatics around me and offer condolences when needed. I can't run away from it, and neither can you. Oh well, come to think of it, I guess I'll be supporting Brazil!