Saudi Support for Spain Is Rooted in History
By Siraj Wahab
Published in Arab News on July 11, 2010
An overwhelming majority of Saudi football fans will be rooting for Spain on Sunday night when it tangles with the Netherlands in the FIFA World Cup 2010 final at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg.
There are a variety of reasons — some predictable and some bizarre — as to why the men and women of this nation of 28 million people are supporting the men in red.
For Jasim M. Al-Yaqout, the Eastern Province general manager of the Ministry of Culture and Information, it is the happy memories of Spain and Spaniards that makes him back the Spanish team.
"They are a very friendly people. I know this firsthand having visited Spain four times. Once I spent nearly six months in Seville in connection with the Saudi Expo there. I was also there during the opening of the Islamic center in Madrid years ago. They are a lovely people. Tonight my prayers are with them," said Al-Yaqout.
Riyadh-based columnist Suraya Al-Shehry is so excited about Spain that she thinks it will beat the Netherlands 3-1.
"I can even tell you who is going to score those three goals for Spain: David Villa, Sergio Ramos and Fernando Torres," she said.
She described the Spanish footballers as musicians. "There is so much symphony and rhythm in the way they play. They are not just musicians — they are magicians. Their wizardry with the ball in their semifinal against the Germans was magnificent. The moment they have the ball ... whirrrrrrr, they go."
Such is her and her daughters' passion for Spain that Al-Shehry has painted her TV lounge red to go with the Spanish team color. "Even the food that we will serve tonight will have a Spanish theme, and there will be strawberry juice to celebrate the color of our team."
And if all that is not enough, Al-Shehry also has a vuvuzela. "We will blow this plastic horn every time Spanish players take control of the ball," she said while laughing gregariously over the phone during the interview.
Abdul Aziz Arrubkan, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for humanitarian affairs, told Arab News from New York that he also is rooting for Spain. "Football aficionados dutifully follow the Spanish leagues in Saudi Arabia. Barcelona, Real Madrid, to name just two Spanish clubs, are household names in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. Therefore, there is a sense of familiarity toward Spain," he explained.
Arrubkan also liked the shape 2010 World Cup has taken in the last four games. "Spain has never been in the finals. The Netherlands has been, but they've never won the cup. All this is good for the game. Nobody likes to see the same countries winning four years after four years. This is welcome relief."
Jeddah-based businessman Muhammad Al-Adel is not much of a football fanatic, yet he will be in front of his large flat-screen home television tonight watching the game closely in the company of his friends and rooting for Spain. The reason? "One particular incident has changed my perception of the Dutch people forever. Once when I was traveling to Amsterdam, the Dutch woman at the airport had some kind of conniption when she looked at my Saudi passport. This was long before Sept. 11, 2001. She made faces and was very condescending. Ever since I have been with all those who are against that country," said Al-Adel. "Tonight I will hopefully have my revenge."
Former Saudi Aramco executive Bidah Mejdal Al-Gahtani will be in Barcelona tonight to watch the all-important game. Who is he supporting? "Spain," comes the instant reply. "Because they have taken what we call the sporting spirit to a whole new level. This is the team that has got the least number of cards. You can check that out. They play a fair game. They enjoy their game, and they ensure that those who are watching them are enjoying, as well. It is so much fun watching them in action."
Al-Gahtani said one big advantage for Spain is the lack of over-hyped and over-rated players. "This tournament has demonstrated that individuals do not matter. Look at how the top players have fallen by the wayside. It is all teamwork. Spain is the best example of that. Tonight will be their night."
"Spain, Spain, Spain," said Lina Almaeena, the Jeddah United executive director and captain of the Women's Basketball Division. "There are many reasons why I am supporting Spain, but the most important of them is the cultural affinity that we share with Spain. This is the country that was under Muslim rule for 800 years. And because of that there are so many things that are common between us and the Spaniards. They have similar family values as we do. They are very protective of their families just as we are. We have known Spain as Al-Andalus. That word creates some kind of an aura in our minds ... I know it is a bit philosophical, but that is the primary reason I am cheering for Spain."
Most Saudis referred to what Lina Almaeena described as the aura of Al-Andalus.
"It is natural for Saudis to support Spain," explained Riyadh-based historian Hatoon Al-Fassi, who herself is no fan of the game. "There is this nostalgia about Spain, and why should there not be? We have had 800 years of relationship with that country. We are historically and geographically closer to Spain than other European countries," Al-Fassi said. "No wonder, we have streets, districts and towns named after Al-Andalus."
According to her, when it comes to favoring one or the other country in such high-profile tournaments, the sense of history and current affairs do play a part in the choices people make. "Arabs and Muslims are politically conscious people. They will always try to find out who is on their side and who is not in the political arena. Then there is the Palestinian issue. People here are aware that most of the European countries are pro-Israel and that they indulge in promoting Islamophobia. For Spain, there is some kind of sympathy because its current government is seen as rational, balanced and Arab-friendly."
Among the tiny minority that is supporting the Netherlands is Jubail-based chemical engineer Dhafir Al-Shehri. "Yes, I am supporting the Netherlands because they are very dedicated and have given their all in their quest for the Cup. They have come this far despite the fact that they do not have very many stars in their side."
According to Al-Shehri's reasoning, many Saudis are supporting Spain because Spain demolished Germany in the semi-final. "Ever since Germany defeated Saudi Arabia 8-0 in the 2002 World Cup, many Saudis have been baying for Germany's defeat. Saudis were also very upset with Germany for eliminating their initial favorite Argentina from this tournament. When Spain defeated Germany in the semi-final there was a collective sigh of relief."
While some have political reasons, some cultural, some historical, and some sporting abilities for supporting Spain, Jeddah-based medical doctor Zeid Alsharif has only this to say: "I am supporting Spain because Paul the octopus has picked it up as a favorite to win the final tonight. I am with the four-year-old tentacled tipster!"