11 kilometers from the Al Bayt stadium – the opening stage of the World Cup and the match between France and Morocco, next Wednesday (14th)–, Qatar is preparing for the next cup it will host.
The movement in the place is intense. They are people with white or beige robes. On her arm is always a bird with a balaclava that covers her eyes. The Al Khor hospital for falcons, the national bird of Qatar, operates there. During the hunting season, from August to April, the clinic sees up to 200 animals a day. The number can reach 25 thousand per year.
The concern at the moment is to be ready for the Marmi Festival, an event that is held annually in Doha, usually in January, and attracts thousands of people. It’s a kind of World Cup for hawks.
“It’s the most important competition we have. A lot of people come to watch it, including tourists and trainers from other countries. It’s huge,” says Niyaz Abbas, 26, an employee at Birds Central, a store that sells falcons in the Falcon Souq, a space dedicated to the exhibition. and poultry trade, in the center of Doha.
The soccer World Cup got in the way of preparing for the Marmi Festival. The animals’ training, which can be done near the Falcon Souq, was canceled because of the wait for tourists interested in football. Not that Abbas noticed all that much of a difference.
“The number of people is basically the same”, observes the seller, who makes a bored face when visitors enter the store not to buy, but to photograph and ask and ask if it is possible to put a falcon on your arm. The request is always fulfilled.
The Marmi Festival is preparing for its 14th edition. It is the popular name of the International Festival of Falcons and Hunting. The purpose is to promote traditional aspects of Arab culture, of which the falcon is representative.
“He is part of who we are, of our heritage. They are memories that pass from family to family, of an animal so loyal that it only responds to the voice of its owner”, says doctor Ikdam Alkarkhi, director of the falcon hospital in Souq Waqif , much sought after by visitors from abroad as it is located in the most touristic region of Doha.
The busiest clinic is in Al Khor, on the outskirts of Doha. This is where trainers concerned about the health of their animals go before the Marmi Festival.
Thousands of falcons are pre-selected, and only four participate in the finals of each category. There are speed classes (the bird can fly at up to 300 km/h), hunting and range of vision (it sees with precision 300 times greater than that of humans).
There is also a dispute based on beauty, in which the most expensive falcons, of the golden white breed, are usually entered. Rare, they can be worth up to 1 million Qatari Rials (R$ 1.42 million).
“If you look here in Souq Waqif, you might find one. But the price will start at 200,000 rials [R$ 285 mil]”, explains Abbas.
Prizes for winners are significant. The first place in each category receives 100,000 rials (R$ 142,000). 15 vehicles from the manufacturer Lexus are distributed. But the biggest reward is the ego of having the best falcon, which is important in Qatari culture. Spread across the Middle East, it is a tradition that began more than 5,000 years ago in the region where Iran is today.
The Bedouins introduced the creation of the bird in Qatar, within the tradition of hunting fresh meat to feed the owners.
“O [Marmi] Festival is the representation of the importance that this bird has for Qataris and the region. Of friends who go to the desert, make a fire, set up tents, release their falcon to go after game and then receive a piece of meat as a reward. In fact, the falcon is an animal that, when it captures prey, spreads its wings so that the other falcons cannot see it”, explains Alkarkhi.
Hawk hunting is considered the country’s national sport. This is despite the approximately US$ 200 billion (R$ 1.05 trillion) spent by Qatar to host the soccer World Cup.
The Marmi Festival is sponsored, like everything else in this Arab nation, by Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The same one that authorized the investment to host the FIFA tournament. In all the shops that sell falcons and in the hospitals where books on the anatomy of this animal are on the tables, there is a painting on the wall with a picture of the emir with his arm outstretched, with a bird on top of him.
The clinics are subsidized by the royal family. They serve local coaches and those traveling from other countries in the region. The amount paid is symbolic. Qatar’s Ministry of the Environment has a department just for taking care of falcons. Animals participating in competitions have passports to travel abroad.
What falcon breeders, sellers and trainers are waiting for now is for the football World Cup to end so that its falcon equivalent begins.
“For the people of the region it is something very important”, says Mohamed Al Quwaru, manager of the hospital for falcons in Al Khor.
As a seasoned news journalist, I bring a wealth of experience to the field. I’ve worked with world-renowned news organizations, honing my skills as a writer and reporter. Currently, I write for the sports section at News Bulletin 247, where I bring a unique perspective to every story.