Al Rayyan, Qatar – A group of friends and family gather daily at the majlis in a building within walking distance of their homes in Al-Rayyan, just west of Doha.

It is a tradition that has been around for years and is part of daily life here in Qatar. A majlis is a space in a house or separate building used for all kinds of gatherings, from everyday lounging to more important events.

But now with the World Cup in the cityit has been given a different theme: a football viewing party.

The mostly middle-aged and elderly attendees at the majlis were there to watch Sunday opening match of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar v Ecuador.

In Qatar, they have been waiting for this moment for years. Across the country, in majlis like this one, Qataris tuned in to see themselves on the global stage.

Not that everyone was here for the game.

“To be honest, I don’t like football,” said Nasser Al Thani, who is here most days. “They’re all here for the match, but I’m here for the opening ceremony.”

The opening ceremony, with its display of Qatari history, took guests back to their childhood. One moment in particular brought them back when a video was shown of the former Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar playing soccer in the desert in what guests believe was the early 1970s.

“We used to play in the sand like this,” said Al Thani. ‘Barefoot, bleeding toes. When I see these old statues, it reminds me of the old days. People were simpler and nicer back then.”

Al Thani and the other guests reminisced about their childhood trips to the desert.

One of them, Mubarak al-Naeemi, played for the Qatari football teams Al-Rayyan and Al-Gharafa in the 1980s. He said one of his teammates at the time was Hassan Afif, the father of the current star of the Qatari team, Akram Afif.

“I would play on the left wing; I was good, but Hassan could get the ball to anyone wherever they were on the pitch,” al-Naeemi told Al Jazeera.

Qatar Football World Cup 2022 - GROUPS

Derived from the game

Qatar conceded a goal early on and set the tone of the game.

So instead of wasting their time focusing too much on what was a poor performance by the Qataris, the majlis guests went back to reflecting on the changes they’ve seen in Qatar over the last 20 years, especially since the World Cup was held. awarded to the Gulf state in 2010.

Doha is known to have changed rapidly since then. But listening to the guests here, who saw that change, it becomes clear how radically different things are.

“Look at these metro stations,” said one of the guests, Sultan Johar. “Four floors underground. It is awesome. We took out the World Cup, but even if we hadn’t, these changes would have been enough. When you get off at every stop, you see something new.”

Al Thani points out that the change has gone beyond infrastructure and has spread to the people.

“Let’s be honest, we didn’t have a strong sense of nationalism or national identity before,” Al Thani said. “The World Cup, this project, has contributed to this. Now you can even hear the other Arabs who grew up here speaking with a Qatari accent. They are starting to feel that pride of living in Qatar.”

But that does not mean that this group welcomes all changes.

They remembered that the Qatar of their childhood and adolescence was less developed, but people were stronger and could survive on their own.

Not only that, the weather was cooler and rainfall was still rare, but more abundant than today, they said.

Now, as many World Cup guests have discovered, temperatures are warmer than they used to be.

“It’s climate change and it has us worried about the future,” Johar said. “We never understood things like conservation or environmental protection. Now we go on a trip to the desert and collect the garbage. We get it now but look at the trees. In some areas they have disappeared due to the lack of rainfall. And the animals we used to hunt, you now have to go deep into the desert to find them.”

On television, Qatar conceded a second and then showed little in the second half, with the game eventually ending 2-0 to Ecuador.

Most of the majlis guests had left long before the end of the games, and the jokes were already rolling in everyone’s phones, in pity for the loss.

In the end, the result was not so important to the guests here, but the symbolism of the arrival of such an important event on their doorstep was. And yet, once this tournament is over, the Majlis will continue, and these friends will still gather, wondering how much more they will see their country change in the years to come.

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By wy9m6

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