Basketball is a popular sport in the Kingdom. Just like the NCAA Final Four Tournament, there is also a "March Madness" of sorts that goes on here, just like in the USA, marking the end of the basketball season with a big tournament championship. The final game was just played this past week and the team from Madinah beat out the team from Jeddah for the title.
One of my brothers-in-law here (that's him on the right below) works for the Ministry of Information and his job entails some refereeing and mainly sports casting for basketball games. We have seen him many times on Saudi Sports TV calling the games. He sits down on the floor at a table next to the team benches, usually with another sportscaster who banters back and forth with him. They use excited and animated voices when announcing the game, in Arabic of course, and I have to laugh out loud when amidst all these Arabic words I hear “Tecka-nickel Fow-el! Tecka-nickel Fow-el!” and then on with more Arabic commentary.
Team players are recruited from all over the world. There are several ex-professional players from the US that now play for Saudi Clubs. The teams here come from private athletic clubs. From what I understand, the local Saudi players (who might be college students or maybe young men with day jobs) play for the pure love of the sport, while the foreign recruited players get paid to play. My husband told me that it is more like college basketball with some pros thrown in to make the game more interesting and to improve the quality of play.
These clubs play other teams within the Kingdom from various cities near and far, as well as athletic clubs from neighboring countries like Iran, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Basketball is quite a popular sport in almost all Middle Eastern countries (as well as soccer).
Fans attending the games consist only of men. NO WOMEN ARE ALLOWED IN TO SEE THE GAME AT ALL! So, the team players' moms, sisters, or wives never get to see their loved ones play, except on TV. Remember, men and women are never thrown into social situations together and are not allowed to mix. Young girls are allowed to go to games until they reach the age of "womanhood," but I haven’t spotted a girl in the crowds yet. Obviously there are no cheerleaders (I think male cheerleaders would be frowned upon in this society!), but I must say, the pre-pubescent boy fans do a very good job of cheering and jumping around from their seats. A scan of the crowds reveals an ocean of white thobes, with a brightly colored shirt popping up here or there. The fans toss confetti, jump up and down, chant into bullhorns, wave shirts or hats in the air, and scream their little hearts out.
At the conclusion of the tournament, dignitaries handed out trophies in a game floor ceremony following the game. The floor was covered in confetti and other paper. The winning team from Madinah danced around the floor in something like a Conga line. Players took turns cutting off the hoop’s net with scissors and then a player from the winning team donned the netting around his neck.
Except for the Arabic language sportscasting, I almost felt like I was back home in the states!
(Note: Sorry for the poor quality of the photos in this post - they were all taken directly off the TV!)