Last month I had the huge pleasure of attending the Qatar Classic. It was an amazing event, one of the best run and best promoted pro tournaments I’ve ever worked at.
In some ways it was just another event for me—watching and talking with the same players, eating meals with the same media folks—but there was often a slight difference. I noticed there wasn’t any alcohol on-site, something totally unusual in the West.
Directly next to the main entrance into the stadium, with its built-in glass court and permanent seating, was a large room. Throughout the event, I’d see pairs of shoes left near the door to the room. Sometimes just three or four pairs, sometimes a couple of dozen. Sandals, sneakers, dress shoes, flip-flops. It was the designated prayer room. Those shoes were a powerful symbol for me.
Everyone was very friendly in Qatar and would ask if this was my first time in Doha. I always had to say that no, technically, it was not, that I had come to Doha two years earlier but only saw the airport.
On assignment for Town & Country, I participated in one of those odd junket for journalists that you hear about. My editor asked me on a Friday if I wanted to go on a trip on the following Monday.
It was almost literally a whirlwind: I got to JFK airport that Monday afternoon and flew on Qatar Airways to Doha; spent six hours in the airport; and then flew back to the States, landing on a Wednesday morning. Here’s the result:
I don’t say in the article, but I was supposed to interview Stewart Boswell during my six-hour sojourn. After a lot of emailing, we thought he might come to the airport so I could interview him in person about Aspire Academy, the boarding school in Doha where he’s developing future champions. But there was a security issue that day and the airport was closed to all people who weren’t flying: I couldn’t get out of the security zone and he couldn’t get in it.
So one day at the Qatar Classic last month, I went out to Aspire and finally got that interview, with Boswell and his fellow coaches Jonathan Kemp and Geoff Hunt.