Making the world smaller

Qatar is currently hosting the Asian Cup. Which means the city has a few extra football/soccer (depends where you’re from) players and fans wandering its streets.  As well as playing host to our visitors, The Asian Cup also provides an opportunity for locals and expatriates to cheer their home country along.

For an Australian, it means we have to pull out a chair, climb up to the top cupboard and retrieve all of the cheap Aussie memorabilia bought at the dollar store before we left home. We then feel the need to get our moneys worth and wear every piece of it, all at the same time.

We’ve been away for 12 years so our memorabilia is looking a little tired. However, the new Australian expats have the good stuff (like my friend Eliza here in the picture), the fuzzy green and yellow wigs, big blow up Australian hands and proper Socceroos t-shirts.

Our family, not so much.

I had to giggle at our first little traveler making her way in to the stadium. We ran out of tattoos after last year’s Australia day celebrations so she had to be creative. She was very happy with her self designed outfit, a flag worn as a cape and a 10 year old faded tea towel wrapped around her head.  The same tea towel made its way to the much coveted 2004 Wiggles concert in Calgary ……its washed a few dishes in between and looking a bit worse for wear, but I could tell by the ear to ear smile on her face, she was very proud of her creation.

As we found our way to our seats I looked out across the stadium, of the 15,000 people that were there, I think probably 13,000 were Korean supporters. Sitting in front of a group of Australians I heard a conversation going on between two women behind me. “What is it that makes us do this when we’re away from home?  Why does my home country pride increase once I land on foreign soil?”

The women commented that they weren’t sure if they would cheer as heartily to “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi” if they were sitting at the MCG. I had to agree, as not only did I nearly lose my voice but I was surprised to find I was married to the cheer squad leader.

Neither G or I fall in to the category of die hard soccer fans, but the sight of Harry Kewell turned me in to a crazed Socceroo wannabe.

I kept one eye on Harry as my British friend painstakingly walked me through who was who on the field.  For the Brits, the Asian cup is torture. For a start, they’re not in it. In their eyes it’s full of mediocre players and teams that will never understand the true history of the game. “They cheer at the wrong times?” my exasperated English friend said “It’s like telling a joke to someone who just doesn’t get the punch line…..why did the chicken cross the road..hahahahahahaha”.

I didn’t help. When it comes to soccer I’m reduced to insightful comments such as “whatya doing?” and “kick it over there.”

It doesn’t matter in international sport though, as long as you scream for your country while someone next to you screams for the theirs, the world suddenly seems a bit smaller. As the little travelers listened to the thirteen thousand Koreans chant they desperately tried to match it with a “C’mon Australiaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa”.  When Australia finally evened the scored we all leapt off our seats and hugged as if we’d just won the lottery.

There was something else though, that made the world seem a little bit smaller. After the teams had run on to the field, a voice in English and then in Arabic made a special announcement.  “We will now observe a minute of silence to remember the flood victims in Australia”.  As the Australian team huddled together, arms resting on shoulders, the crowd grew silent. I thought about all of the awful stories we’d read and watched in the past week, stories told by grown men who couldn’t make eye contact with the camera. I looked at my surroundings.

Far from flooding, only miles from the desert in a Qatar stadium, I saw Koreans, Brits, Qataris, too many nationalities to list, all pause and take a moment to reflect in silence. “How come everyone’s being so quiet” whispered the 3rd little traveler, I explained they were thinking about the flood victims. With the innocence that only a child can have he said “oh, that’s very nice of them”. I couldn’t answer, so I just nodded.

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