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Official Review by Gary Butterworth, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
No, Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium is not part of the 2022 FIFA World Cup bid. What it is, though, is an example of what makes Qatar, Qatar. Just a stone’s throw from Doha’s waterfront, the venue also known as Qatar SC Stadium is clean, comfortable, and modern. Thanks to a renovation, it feels new. It is also relatively overbuilt and/or underutilized, as it sits ready and waiting for the opportunity to show itself off to the world.
This 15,000-seat stadium, opened in 1984, hosts Qatar SC of the Qatar Stars League, high-level international athletics competitions, and various matches in the lower levels of the Qatari football pyramid. During a 22 hour flight layover, we had the opportunity to leave the airport and attend a match in the Qatargas League. Although we were nearly unable to attend due to incorrect scheduling information being distributed on the league’s English website, we came away impressed by both the 2nd-level of Qatari soccer as well as the venue and the professionalism of the league.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium boasts no permanent food stands, leaving us to guess what options, if any, might exist for higher-profile matches. For the Qatargas League, no vendors were on site. Those connected to the players were able to receive bottled water from team officials, while the average fan was left looking elsewhere. Fortunately, a commercial plaza just steps from the stadium's entrance offers up U.S. chains Burger King, Quizno's, and Applebee's (or, in Arabic, "Abblebee's."), all with prices comparable to what one would find in the U.S. and cheaper than in much of Europe. In the same complex, Italian coffee shop Caffe Vergnano was busier than the stadium.
For this Qatargas League match, fans were free to bring their own food and beverage into the stadium.
Mercifully, matches are played at night. Evening matches mean that it's possible to forget about the blazing sun and take a seat anywhere in the stadium, even in the uncovered seats, which constitute the majority of the stadium. (For the rare daytime match, you absolutely want to sit under cover). Still, you might want to find a seat under the roof anyway. The undercover section contains an open VIP terrace area that is relatively uncommon in Western stadia, plus it offers a pleasant view of some of Doha's well-lit skyscrapers. While the most dramatic elements of the Doha skyline are not visible from the stadium, the city view offered is still impressive.
This stadium is regularly home to track and field events. As such, it sports the athletics track that many football fans dread. Indeed, the track makes the end zone sections into true "curvas" that sit quite far back from the action. Coupled with the fact that the scoreboard sits above the end zone, most fans will want to sit along the sidelines. Of course, when the crowd numbers in the dozens, fans can wander. Try both the molded-plastic seats and the folding seats, and see which you prefer.
Even with a small crowd, the scoreboard was turned on and displayed relevant graphics. A female public address announcer made game announcements in Arabic and English, and advertising banners were displayed. Security ringed the pitch, and training staff had access to a golf cart for injuries. Everything about the match screamed "professional" even if the crowd size screamed "amateur."
The extremely bright LED light towers are visible from much of the Doha waterfront. In our case, it was these lights that alerted us to the match, as the league's website clearly indicated an off day.
Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium is located in Doha's Al Khuwair district (though some may confuse this part of town with the neighboring Al Dafna district). For sports fans, it sits comfortably close to the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex and the offices of the Qatar Handball Federation. The location is quite central, and the entire city (in fact, the entire country) is within easy driving distance.
If you don't feel like getting into the car, the retail complex immediately outside of the stadium provides reasonable, if generic, Western dining options. Across a busy street and acres of parking, the Abdul Wahhab Mosque is worth a look.
Beyond the immediate surroundings, the stadium is relatively walkable from most of Doha, including from many tourist sites. However, Doha as a city is not particularly well-suited for walking. The scorching Arabian sun makes even the idea of a walk a non-starter during daylight hours. At night, crime is not much of a concern, but fast-moving traffic and inconsistent pedestrian facilities make the idea a bit risky. With better crosswalks, a stroll to or from the stadium along Doha's famous Gulf-side Corniche would make for a very pleasant pre or post game activity. As is, this walk is possible, but we can't recommend it. We greatly enjoyed our walk to the game along the waterfront, but after a close-call crossing the street, we decided to take a taxi back to the hotel after the game.
For the second-tier Qatargas League, expect little more than a small friends-and-family type crowd. That said, the few dozen in attendance were engaged in the match, even breaking into song at a few points. Like in most of Doha, English and Arabic were heard spoken by fans, and neither Western nor Arab clothes stood out. A very small number wore team gear which, sadly, was not available for sale.
Approximately 88% of people in Qatar are foreigners, and nearly all of them arrive at the airport. A new airport opened just next to the old one in April 2014. If you're in a rush, and if there's no traffic, you can make a beeline from the stadium to the airport in 20 minutes.
Qatar Sports Club is a planned stop on the Doha Metro set to open between 2019 and 2026. Until then, bus service is available on Route 102.
But chances are that you'll be coming to the game by car. For 2nd tier Qatargas League matches, parking is readily available at the stadium with no charge. While we have no direct experience in attending larger matches at this venue, the nearby tennis complex and mosque may be options should the stadium's own medium-sized lots fill up.
Taxi prices in Doha are very reasonable, but finding one can sometimes be difficult at peak times. You may want to call ahead to book, especially when leaving the match.
With a small crowd on hand, few entrances were open, and there was no security screening upon entry. Inside the venue, you'll have no trouble moving around or finding a place to park yourself. For the Qatargas League, seating is general admission, and the low crowds mean wide-open concourses. Even for matches in the first-tier Qatar Stars League, a full house is rare. Despite already-low ticket prices, league sponsors have introduced a rewards program in an attempt to increase attendance at top-tier matches.
Interestingly, no restrooms are visible in the public areas of the stadium. In the absence of a large crowd, fans might have luck using the facilities inside of the Qatar Sports Club clubhouse.
Pro soccer in a first-rate venue for free. For the soccer fan, a Qatargas League match is among the best entertainment values in the entire Middle East.
The Qatargas League deserves praise for putting on such a high-quality, professional presentation for such a sparsely-attended match. The high-quality scoreboard and informative, bilingual public address announcer made no differentiation between a small crowd and a full house. Similarly, facilities were good for the players. Team players have access to full, professional training staffs, and a lush, green field to play on, even in the desert.
The venue also deserves praise for its less-public areas, which are pleasantly open to all. The stadium is also known as "Qatar Sports Club" stadium because, logically enough, it's home to one of this country's largest and most successful sports organizations. We were able to exit through the clubhouse and admire the hardware the club had acquired over the years.
Finally, the State of Qatar deserves recognition from sports fans for placing sports at the forefront of its development strategy. It is truly remarkable for such a small country to be awarded the 2006 Asian Games, the 2015 World Handball Championship, and the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Criticisms of these bids may indeed be valid and worthy of discussion on legal, moral, and human rights grounds. But from a strictly fan-experience point of view, we came away extremely impressed by Qatar's professionalism and capabilities.
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