Contestants with their falcons during a junior falconry competition in Ras Laffan, some 80km north of Doha, Qatar. AFP
These "Little Falconers" have gathered in a tent ahead of the football World Cup in the Gulf emirate, in a bid to introduce visitors to a practice inherited from their forefathers.
"This is my first participation in the competition," says 11-year-old Breik Al Marri, dressed in flowing white robes beside his falcon Gasham, a leather hood obstructing the bird's view.
"I love Gasham and I take care of him," Marri said, sliding his left arm into a thick leather gauntlet to protect him from the raptor's sharp talons.
Falconry was added to the Unesco list of intangible cultural heritage in 2010, in countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
A contestant handles a falcon during a junior falconry competition in Ras Laffan, Qatar. AFP
"Originally a means of obtaining food, falconry... has been integrated into communities as a social and recreational practice and as a way of connecting with nature," the culture agency said.
'Strength of determination'
"I learned this sport from my grandfathers, father and uncles," said Marri. "I learned from them the strength of determination and how to take care of the falcon."
Marri explains that the hood helps keep the bird of prey calm. As soon as the falcon regains sight, he says, the behaviour changes.
"Once, my brother came while the falcon didn't have the hood on, and he tried to pet the bird, but the falcon bit him," he said. "The falcon was scared!"
Marri recently participated with a dozen others in the "Promising Falconers" contest for 11-15 year olds.
The contest sees each young falconer choose the perfect moment to release their bird in order to snatch their prey, a lure waved about 200 metres (about 650 feet) away. The winner of the contest is the falconer whose bird captures the prey the quickest.
Also taking part in the contest was 15-year-old Saeed Al Jamila, who named his falcon Hayya — after the special fan passes for the FIFA World Cup, which runs from Nov.20 to Dec.18.
Expressing excitement at the more than one million fans expected to descend on his small nation for the tournament, he hopes to send a message encouraging them to try falconry themselves.
Contestants with their falcons during a junior Falconry competition in Ras Laffan. AFP
"They should try it, they won't lose anything," he said. "It's a beautiful sport." But while excitement abounded for the young falconers in this division, it was undoubtedly the "Little Falconers" aged six to 10 who stole the show.
One by one, they trailed out in a row, each holding a hunting bag, while on their right arm they balanced the birds whose claws were bigger than the children's hands.
Eight-year-old Hamad Al Nuaimi stepped out in front of the panel of judges, who began questioning on hunting tools, their uses and properties.
At one point, Nuaimi stumbled for a response to one of the questions, only to be helped along by one of the judges. The purpose of the contest is to "preserve our heritage and that of our forefathers. We are passing this heritage to this generation," says panel member Saad al-Muhannadi.
The little falconers are then tested on their ability to properly remove the birds' hoods, then to successfully place them from their arm to a perch, securing their feet using a special knot.
"Hunting teaches a man perseverance and self-reliance," said Muhannadi, as the strong scent of coffee wafted from nearby. He hoped that the hosting of the World Cup would grant Qatar the opportunity to "spread our culture and national identity."
Falconry "is an ancient sport, whether in Qatar or other Gulf countries, it is an authentic sport," he said.
The newly crowned champions of the world boarded an open top bus and several, including Messi, could be seen singing the words to "Muchachos” while they waited for everyone to get on to travel to the headquarters of the Argentine Football Association.
This 2.45-million figure equals an average of 96 per cent occupancy and is higher than the corresponding 2.17-million figure for the 2018 edition.
Social media, and some more traditional news outlets, had reported that FIFA President Gianni Infantino was considering encouraging referees to play more stoppage time, effectively extending games to 100 minutes, to make up for the amount of time the ball is not in play.
The 18-year-old Bojica, whose entry on the big stage of women’s tennis came at the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open earlier this year, eased past Slovakia’s Nina Danisova 6-2, 6-3 in 99 minutes to set a meeting against eighth seed Peangtarn Plipuech of Thailand.
Connor Beasley claimed his 19th winner for the season with a treble at Jebel Ali Racecourse on Saturday, a haul that included victory in the feature Union Day Stakes, aboard Ahmad Bin Harmash’s Delorean, who went gate-to-wire in the contest over a mile. It was one of two wins for in-form trainer Harmash,
India, who won the previous match for an unbeatable 3-1 lead in the five-match series, lost regular wickets after being put into bat first before Shreyas Iyer smashed 53 off 37 balls to lift the total in Bengaluru.
Slovakia’s Hruncakova – formerly going by her maiden surname Kuzmova – will meet Dalila Jakupovic of Slovenia, while Snigur – the 2021 champion at this tournament – will be up against Anastasia Zakharova at the lower end of the draw.