Soccer in Qatar

Andrew Aprahamian

One Friar traveled to the other side of the world last month to play a universal game.  

Aprahamian and friend on soccer fields in Qatar
Aprahamian and friend on soccer fields in Qatar

In March 2014, I had the opportunity to travel to the country of Qatar. I traveled to the city of Doha with several soccer players and coaches as part of the Philadelphia Union Academy. This was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, and an experience that I will never forget.

Qatar, a peninsula, is located in Western Asia, and bordered only by Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf.  It is the richest country per capita due to its massive natural gas and oil reserves. Qatar has invested billions into its infrastructure, including many new buildings and hotels, in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Islam is the main religion.  In 2008 a Roman Catholic Church called Our Lady of Rosary was created for the small Christian population, but it isn’t permitted to display any signs or symbols on the outside.

The country’s wealth became apparent to me as I stepped off the plane. I was stunned by its cleanliness, modernization, and was picked up by a futuristic monorail at the airport. Immediately upon our arrival it became clear that we weren’t in America anymore.The men were dressed in white robes, each with white or red headgear called turbans.  The women wore black robes.  Some women covered their face completely with a black cloth and some left their eyes uncovered. It was a bit odd to me because I don’t see this in my everyday life in America.  This was the first moment that I have ever felt truly out of place. It seemed as though everybody in the airport noticed our American group and then muttered something in Arabic.

On the way to my hotel I must have seen at least 100 houses that looked like Beverly Hills mansions. From a distance the capital city of Doha was visible.  The skyline showed skyscraper after skyscraper.  Each one was was lit up with a vibrant color. The shape, height and style of each skyscraper was unique and impressive.

The hotel was a dream.  Each room had its own master iPad, which controlled everything in our room – from the TV to the color of the lights. Yes, the lights in our room could change colors.  Everything in our hotel, and in Qatar in general, appeared to be of the highest quality, brand new and technology driven. Outside the hotel it seemed that everywhere we traveled it was safe, clean and peaceful.

The soccer complex where my team practiced and played was amazing. I had never seen so many stadiums and soccer fields. What really surprised me was that all the fields were in perfect condition but there were no workers in sight. Every grass field was cut with patterns and pre-watered.  One of our coaches said that the youth academy fields in Qatar were better than the actual Philadelphia Union professional team fields. There were 12 in all.  The quality and quantity of the fields spoke to the amount of time and money invested in the complex.

The language barrier between my team and the Qatar teams was tough to deal with, because English and Arabic do not have much in common. The way we connected with each other was through soccer.  This really showed me how soccer is a universal sport.

One big difference between the soccer academy that we visited in Qatar and the soccer academies in the USA is the age of the players. There were kids as young as age 10 living at the Qatar Aspire Academy, away from their families, just to pursue soccer. It also showed me how much more we stress education in the United States. The kids did attend school but it seemed as if there were kids always practicing on the fields when we got there.  Soccer seemed to take priority.

I definitely encourage everyone to take any opportunity to travel outside of the country because it really opens your eyes to how different our world is.  Also, it shows a different culture and everyday life. This trip was one of the greatest experiences of my life thus far, and I hope to have more opportunities like it in the future.