Seen as symbols of courage and force, falcons are regarded as precious birds and revered in the Arab World. For Arabs, falconry goes back more than 5.000 years and it was a way of life, where every household enjoyed the presence of falcons around them, with the birds considered part of the family.
In fact, falconry – the ancient art of taking wild quarry with a trained bird of prey – first served as a means of survival, procuring the necessary food for the day-to-day living. Then, as society evolved, it became a multi-million-dollar sport for the upper classes and has been the national sport in Qatar since before it became a true nation.
In the Middle East, falconry was introduced by Bedouin tribes, which slowly evolved into a sport, taking advantage of the natural qualities of the falcon, which can travel to 300 km/h during dives.
Prized birds, many of which are imported to Qatar, are sold in markets or through private dealers for tens of thousands of dollars, and are very sought after, with the most expensive falcon sold in the Arab Peninsula going for $450.000 in 2021.
It goes without saying that Qatar has thoroughly embraced the falcons, with a state-of-the-art medical facility devoted to the expert treatment and care of the birds, the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital, being built in Doha and inaugurated in 2008. It tends to over 10.000 birds annually during the hunting season: clipping talons, examining feathers, taking avian X-rays and providing specialist massage for tired wings.
A visit to the hospital for a falcon costs as little as $5, while our Middle Eastern airlines — Qatar, Emirates, Etihad and Royal Jordanian airways — allow falcons to fly in the main cabin of their planes, provided they have a ticket and a passport to prove they aren’t being stolen, according to the ”Los Angeles Times”.
But in Qatar, the roots are not forgotten and falconry still has many adepts. With demand growing in recent years, falconry clubs have been getting more and more inundated with requests. Competitions have doubled in number and falcons now compete in an increasing number of races and beauty contests.
With the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it was just normal that falconry and football were going to be etched together for a few days. And one professional falconer, Masnad Al Mohannadi, helped predict the results at Qatar 2022 with the help of his bird.
As Qatar is bracing for being in the spotlight for the next month, organizing the ”best-ever edition of the FIFA World Cup,” as FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, put it, Al Mohannadi decided to take his falcon for a test run. He attached flags of Qatar and Ecuador, the two teams that will kick-off the tournament on Sunday to two drones and flew the machines above.
A treat of pigeon meat was attached to both flags, Neyar, the falcon, would pick one and that would be the winner of the match.
“Our ancestors used to hunt with falcons to get food. And it became a tradition for us. We treat them like a member of our own family. “A falcon trainer he’s the manager of its team. We have six or seven falcons to train for competitions or for hunting. So we train these falcons four hours a day; two hours in the morning, early morning and two hours early at night. So, it’s the same from a manager’s point of view,” said Al Mohannadi.
Unfortunately for Qatar, Neyar picked Ecuador, which, if true, it means that the hosts will need to wait for their second match at the 2022 FIFA World Cup to seal their first-ever win in the competition.
Neyar is not the first animal to try and predict the outcome of football matches. An octopus, Paul, which rose to fame at the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany, in 2008 and 2010, correctly predicted 12 of the 14 matches he was asked at the UEFA EURO 2008 and 2010 FIFA World Cup.
In the latter tournament, the octopus had a 100% success rate, with his only two misses coming at the EURO 2008, as his success rate made for an astounding 85.7%.