Every edition of the FIFA World Cup has an epicentre aside from the state-of-the-art stadiums where the action really happens. It is the place where fans from all continents, cheering for all the teams, gather and enjoy the atmosphere, soaking up the once-in-a-lifetime experience that the tournament provides.
For many fans, but especially the ones from Arab countries, Souq Waqif in Doha has become the focal point, with thousands flocking to the narrow streets, strolling through the corridors to spend their nights and their money on traditional Arab dishes or souvenirs.
Souq Waqif – roughly translated in English as the ”standing market” – is the traditional market in Doha offering a wide variety of traditional garments, spices, handicrafts, and souvenirs and is home to plenty of restaurants and shisha lounges, a hugely popular destination in Qatar’s capital even long before the 2022 FIFA World Cup was awarded to the Middle East state.
The souq was founded over a century ago, first immediately adjoining the shore to allow boats to bring goods, and is now situated in the proximity of a river bed, known as Wadi Musheireb. It was a gathering place where Bedouins and locals would trade a variety of goods, but has definitely known a boom since the early 1990s, when Qatar became a power in the Middle East.
But as Qatar 2022 grew closer and kicked off, Souq Waqif has its walls adorned with flags and sporting artistic installations, with big screens installed at various places. The corridors were also decorated with sculptures that reflect the spirit of the FIFA World Cup, with the preparations for receiving tourists well underway for over a year, as Qatar really delivered an electric atmosphere for the world football flagship tournament they are hosting.
In an earlier announcement, Souq Waqif administration said that the stores at the traditional market are ready for the World Cup. “Souq Waqif stores provide all the fans’ needs, including kits, flags, and everything related to cheering for the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” it said.
Nearly all of the stores in the Men’s and Women’s supplies section of Souq Waqif display the flags of the 32 nations that have qualified for the world’s largest football event. Memorabilia from the World Cup is being sold almost everywhere, including jerseys, shirts, scarves and shawls, flags, key chains, country flag sunglasses, bracelets, and caps.
The traditional ghutras, the headscarf used by men in the Middle East, were also produced in the traditional colours of the teams that are featuring at the 2022 FIFA World Cup and are also seen during the games in the ends occupied by the fans. Nearly all of them were sold in the Souq Waqif.
There’s a lot Souq Waqif can offer — riding a camel, pony, or a horse, holding a falcon, or visiting various historical and modern landmarks, Camel and Horse stables, Craft Centre, Souq Waqif Art Center, Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital, The Golden Thumb statue, Pigeon Square and Gardens or one can try the cupping therapy.
The theme of the Souq is now definitely the World Cup, with various art installations now in place. A goalpost, “Freej”, by Ghada al Suwaidi has two solid blue doors, which are framed by tumbling bougainvillea, an homage to the entrances seen on many older Qatari homes, which kids were known to use as goalposts for impromptu neighborhood football games.
Camel and falcon sculptures can also be seen around the traditional market, with both animals playing an important role in Qatar’s culture and heritage. The falcon is the national bird of the country and has huge importance, with its heritage coming from the first days since Qatar gained its independence.
But did the FIFA World Cup help boost the trading in the Souq Waqif? According to the local merchants plying their trade there, the business is booming.
“It feels like our business is back to pre-COVID-19 years. The World Cup event definitely increased our sales,” said one local merchant, according to the Peninsula Qatar outlet.
During the Qatar 2022 tournament, various restaurants also expanded their menus to cater to different palates, along with matching uniforms to celebrate football’s biggest tournament and many of them have been changing their operating hours, to cater for all needs, changing to a 24-hour, non-stop, schedule.