The contribution of the Indian community to Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will have many firsts to its credit including being the shortest in FIFA history, as well as the first to be held in the Middle East and entire Arab world is enormous. Though Qatar has exploited Indian workers to build infrastructure for the FIFA World Cup 2022, Indians played a pretty big role in introducing football to the country.
This story of how Indian migrant workers who perished in Qatar for work and gifted the game of football to the country gets interesting. It is a story about how Indians managed to introduce football in Qatar and also highlights the extreme conditions that Indian migrant workers worked in. It is the story that was told by Tom Clayton, a 92-year-old former British Petroleum Company-employee.
In the 1940s, oil was just discovered in Qatar. To be more precise, it was located in the industrial city of Dukhan in the western region of Qatar and about an hour's drive from Doha via the Dukhan Highway. The Dukhan region saw the prospect of oil, marking the discovery of the peninsula's first significant oil reserve.
However, at that time, the country was not what it is today. In those days, there wasn't even a road connecting the oil field in Dukhan with the capital, Doha. It is pertinent to mention that nobody had ever seen the game of football being played in the 1940s. Their favourite pastime was the ancient sport of camel racing - a fiercely contested game that dates back to Medieval times.
At the same time, there was also a gradual increase in recruiting workers from India. The British being British had recruited around 75 Indian workers from Mumbai for the oil field purposes. After arriving in Dukhan, the Indian workers used to distribute food, clean the premises, manage files, and type letters, and monthly reports that were delivered to the corporate executives in London.
Indian migrant workers did not have the best living and working conditions in the Gulf, and of course, the British officers frequently treated them unfairly. However, that is another story. In their free time, the British oil officers as well as Indian migrant workers played football using sacks as goalposts.
Soon, football became their favorite pastime. A few British manufacturing engineers would teach the Indian workers the rules of the game and they soon began competing with each other. While British engineers were working nonstop to start oil production, the Indian workers played football as they primarily worked in shifts. After their grueling shift hours, football flourished.
The locals found themselves getting interested in the unusual sight of British officers and Indian workers playing an alien game. Soon, the locals took a serious interest in football. The game gradually grew into a much larger phenomenon. Al-Najah, the nation's first football team, was established in 1950 with a monthly rent of 70 Indian rupees.
And this was just the beginning. Qatar witnessed rapid development in the ensuing decades. BP records show that from 1951 to 1953 the British and Indian employees of Petroleum Development (Qatar) Ltd played in league and competitions. By the 1970s, football flourished.
As the World Cup kicks off in Qatar, the unnamed Indian workers who began the story, have been lost to history.