[updated: 14 July 2012]
I've just come back from the Qatar Sports Club where I watched the final of this year's Asian Men's Junior (Under 21) Handball Championship and it was a close-fought victory for Qatar over South Korea, 25-22. Qatar had nudged ahead right from the start and retained a lead for most of the game, but there was a spell towards the end of the second period when the Koreans came back and it was level-pegging. They lost their momentum, however, when a player got sent off for a careless challenge that resulted in a hand hitting an opponent in the face. Within a couple of minutes the Qatar side had taken advantage of the numerical superiority and established a cushion that saw them through.
In attendance in this compact indoor arena (the pitch is only 40m by 20m), were coach loads of boys, accompanied by guardians (parents?) They were all dressed in the thawb, and also brought along ghutra and egal, though one youngster sitting next to me seemed to have a bit of difficulty putting them on. So the stands were predominantly white and there was hardly any sign of a phone or camera - when one appeared it was spotted and its owner got told off and threatened with confiscation of the device! There was no snacking and not a bottle in sight, so visually really different from scenes you'd expect at sports stadia in the West.
Yet there was certainly no lack of energy among the fans for down at the foot of the stand was a hailer with megaphone and line of African drums; they seemed to spend most of their time with their backs to the action and facing the spectators, urging them on, orchestrating their clapping, whistling, singing, jumping up, swaying from side to side and generally vocalising their support! This "vociferous" crowd were sometimes cheering their team so much that I'm not sure they were that focused on the details of the game. It wasn't just the Qataris who made all the noise though - the Korean supporters were also energetic with their rattle shakers.
Suspended high over the goal area on one side was a net full of marooon and white balloons. It was evidently strategically placed and expectant of only one result! When the wards were made within a couple of minutes that area was transformed into podiums, red carpets and VIP seating. When the trophy was presented to the winning team, the balloons were duly released over the heads of the Qatar players, accompanied by an arrangement of the anthem "We are the Champions". Apart from the trophy, the top three teams are rewarded with qualification for next year's World Junior Championship.
I had learnt about the championship from some other guests at the hotel; the first guest I spoke to was a young man called Osama. He was a member of the Iraq team. It's not a game that is much heard of in the UK (other sports seem to have marginalised it), but it's very popular in many other countries around the world. Later on I had the privilege of meeting Mr Muhammad Shafiq, Director of Sports, University of Agriculture Faisalbad, Pakistan. He introduced the game into Pakistan in the early 80s and was in Doha as a member of the International Handball Federation, which oversees such events, with Doha acting as the local organiser on this occasion. And it was one of his colleagues, Mr. Mahmoud, who kindly invited me to go and watch the final.
If this area contest was anything to go by, the 2013 World Championship will be pretty lively!
See also: News report from The Peninsula online newspaper.