Falcon tradition inspires passion in World Cup host Qatar

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Qatar has become a hotbed for soccer after winning the right to host the World Cup. But as more than a million foreign fans flock to the tiny emirate of Falkory, another sport is flying high in the historic heart of the capital, Doha.

At the bustling Waqif, Doha’s 100-year-old lab market, shops sell spices and souvenirs to shops – and even a modern hospital. – Filled with iconic birds that have long inspired passion among Bedouin tribes.

For centuries, Arabs in the region have used falcons to hunt and recite poems extolling their virtues. Today, birds of prey serve as a reminder of Qatar’s culture and tradition as the city’s skyscrapers race to prepare itself for the world’s biggest sporting event.

“Indeed, football is the mother of sports. “But besides football, there are other very important sports that we want foreigners to know about Qatar,” said Khalid Al Khaja, a 45-year-old falconer from rural Syria who moved to Doha with his family two decades ago. Breeding the bird. “The way we treat hawks speaks volumes about our relationship with the wilderness, with nature. It brings us back to the basics of life.”

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A day before the opening ceremony of the World Cup, fans from around the world flocked to Souq Waqif on Saturday to brave Doha’s scorching autumn sun to wander through the perfume and incense stalls and check out the stocking of quivering parrots and lovebirds.

In Dark Street, Al Khaja expressed hope that the World Cup would bring attention to the ancient pastime to which he had devoted his life. Hawk lines, attached to perch, wait to be guessed on Saturday. For Qatari clients, raptors serve as beloved pets, status symbols — and ferocious predators.

“Qatar has this new infrastructure, buildings, everything,” Al Khaja said, referring to the $200 billion the energy-rich country has poured into soccer, building vast air-conditioned stadiums, fancy hotels and even a metro. A system to knock fans around town. North of the historic Souq Waqif, the skyscrapers of West Bay sparkle.

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“But we will not forget the past. The falcon is the love that unites the entire region,” Al Khaja said.

In recent years, Qatari citizens and long-time Arab residents have seen the emirate’s growing value in cultural matters, not to mention its natural gas wealth and international trade hub, increasing its popularity. .

Falcon clubs, beauty pageants and races have proliferated in the Qatari desert and the Arabian Peninsula, driving up the price of falcons, traders say. The best at the Al-Khaja store fetches up to 1 million Qatari riyals ($274,680), he said.

Nowhere is the love of falconry more evident than at the nearby Doha Shop Waqif Falcon Hospital – a comprehensive medical facility providing professional treatment and care for birds. Surgeons mend the falcons’ broken bones, trim their excessively long talons, and perform full-body X-rays of the birds.

But even among the hawk-madness, the excitement about the World Cup – for the first time in the Arab world – is great. A Qatari falconer, Masnad Ali Al Mohanadi, introduces his beloved bird, Neyar, who has the ability to pick World Cup winners.

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Earlier this week in Al Hor, 50 kilometers north of Doha, he tied the pigeon meat with the flags of Qatar and Ecuador – the teams that start the competition on Sunday. Two drones pulled the flag into the sky. As they swung overhead, Al Mohannadi, in aviator glasses and his traditional white coat, asked the hawk to pick the winner.

“Go to Qatar, go to Qatar!” He pleaded as he took the bird into the desert air. Neyar hastened to the flag of Qatar. But moments later, the raptor swooped in the opposite direction, attacking the meat wrapped in Ecuador’s national colors.

“He chose Ecuador,” Al Mohanadi said. Frustration flashed across his face. “God willing, Qatar will win.”

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Associated Press writers Nebi Kena and Serjan Nedeljakovic contributed to this report.

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