What’s with Oman’s El Classico Obsession?

Atheer – Oliver Allan

“So which team do you support in the Premier League?”

“Oh, I don’t follow the Premier League.”

“I see, are you not into football then?”

“I am, I just don’t watch the Premier League. I’m not British, I’m Omani, so I watch the Omani League.”

This is a conversation that I had with someone a couple of years ago that has stuck in my mind ever since. I have always been intrigued to know why, particularly in this part of the world, there exists such enthusiasm for overseas football, such as the Spanish league and more specifically, why there is such a hysteria over Barcelona and Real Madrid. There’s no denying the quality of this standard of football, however it appears that this Spanish football craze corresponds to something of a detachment from and an apathy towards local football.

In Oman, as in much of the Arab world, friends enthusiastically stay up late into the night to watch El Classico, the Real Madrid-Barcelona local derby, supporting one of the two teams with an intense passion. Colourful arguments over whether Ronaldo or Messi is the better player are also rather routine.

Again, it’s not so much about the interest in foreign football, but rather about the fact that Omanis are largely apathetic when it comes to their own local football league and to an extent even the national team. Households become divided over the Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry, yet if you were to ask who the top scorer in the local league is, most Omanis would probably struggle to come up with a name. This failure to replicate the same passion for Omani football is what perplexes me.

Supporting a football team is about far more than simply cheering for the most successful club, but rather it’s about following your team’s fortunes through thick and thin, through the highs and the lows. While football fans ultimately crave attractive football, there’s a sense of pride in supporting one’s local team and regardless of how much silverware it wins, the interest, the support and the passion remain. People in Oman typically take great pride in their origins, while local traditions are highly revered. Why then, is this paradigm not applied to sports?

A football team represents the community and therefore it is something to which the community should lend their support and take great pride. Without mutual support from the communities there is no hope for the quality of football in the Sultanate to ever pick up. For those who gripe about the standard of Omani football, the only answer is to lend local football the same level of support as is often devoted to the Barcelona-Real Madrid dispute.

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