Sunday, March 23, 2008

March Madness in Arabia

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!)


  1. Hi Susie,Thanks for the proof that march madness is a worldwide virus for which there is no vaccine!

  2. You can't imagine how excited I get each time I see a new chapter in your blog. I really look forward to reading them.
    I just read the basketball chapter to Ike and showed him the pictures -- he loved it, especially the part about no male cheerleaders!
    I'm sure your brother has enjoyed comparing this to NCAA basketball. It definitely is March Madness here in full swing. Most people have North Carolina winning in the Final Four and becoming the new champion, but you never know when an upset will take place.
    Thanks again for the entertainment and keep them coming!

  3. To Always in the Kitchen -
    I thought the rest of the world would like to know!

  4. To Billie -
    I have been trying to keep up on March Madness in the states. I know that the UofA was eliminated in the first round - they didn't have a very good season this past year anyway. The beauty of the tournament is that any team could walk away with the prize. That's the way it always is.
    Gary is always so busy in the spring - he even spends part of it being sequestered while he and the others figure out the RPI to see who will make it and who won't. Behind the scenes, but very exciting.

  5. Hi Susie,

    Just wanted to tell you thanks for all of your comments on my blog when we were in Ireland. I didn't realize until doing my blog how much you enjoy getting the comments. So I will be doing this to yours!

    Check mine out today. I have two pictures from the Chiricahuas!


  6. Very interesting again! And the photo's were good enough. I wondered while reading how you got them!

    I do think it's a pity that nothing is considered innocent. And I would be sad if I coulnd't share those moments with my husband.

  7. Cheela -
    So glad you had a wonderful trip to Ireland! And glad to hear you'll be continuing with the blog - it gets addicting, doesn't it?

  8. Interesting! About the basketball. but doesn't bother you you can't go to the games. You take all this "no women allowed" too well.

  9. To Aafke and Mariva -
    Yes, in many ways I think this male dominated society takes things way too extreme. That women and families can't enjoy doing so many of the things taken for granted in the US is a shame.

  10. I was wondering the other day when I was watching an NCAA game how you and Adam would manage during March Madness and you answered my question. Not only you two, but Adnan as well. I never would have imagined the popularity of the sport in Arabia.
    Also, as I was watching a lot of the movies surrounding Easter and Passover for the Jewish people this last weekend, I wondered how the Moslem religion ties into the Old Testament stories. In my understanding of the origins of peoples of the earth most Middle Eastern peoples are descendants of Ishmael, Abraham's first born son. So many things you mention about the religion there are so tied in with Christianity. I guess my questions show my ignorance because I don't know where Mohammed figures into everything either. I'll just have to study up on it all.
    Thanks again for an enlightening of that part of the world. I am always excited when I see another chapter to read.

  11. Hi Jeannine -
    I do not profess to be an expert in the religion department, so I will try to explain a bit with my limited understanding. Many of the beliefs in Christianity, Judaism and Islam are the same, but here are some of the differences. Islam says that Jesus was a prophet, while Christians believe him to be the son of God. Muslims believe that Mohammed too was a prophet. He was the founder of Islam. While Christianity teaches the Trinity, Islam says there is only one God (Allah). Islam also refutes the manner in which Jesus died according to Christianity. By the way, Islam also recognizes the Bible and the Torah as holy books. It would be impossible to delve into all the similarities (there are many) and differences of all 3 religions here, and I am probably not the person to attempt this task. But I hope this little summarization helps.

  12. Jeannine, just to explain a little more... There are six articles of faith in Islam: belief in one God, His angels, His revealed books, His messengers, the Hereafter, and Destiny.

    Muslims believe in and love all of the Prophets (Adam, Moses, Abraham, Jesus, and the rest, Muhammad being the last - peace be upon them all) and believe that they came with the same message of monotheism. There are chapters in the Quran named after Abraham, Mary, Noah, Jonas and Joseph, and the stories of many other prophets are told in various chapters.

    "Say: We believe in God, and that which has been sent down on us, and sent down on Abraham and Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob, and the Tribes, and in that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and the prophets, of their Lord; we make no division between any of them." [translation of the meaning of al Baqara, II: 136, in the Quran]

    We believe in the revealed books, among them the Torah given to Moses, the Psalms given to David and the Gospels given to Jesus - but we believe that the original versions of these scriptures are no longer in existence. The Quran is the last revelation, and has been preserved in its original language by being written down and learned by heart by many Muslims, so that the copies we have today are the same as the original.

  13. Ah March Madness! Yes it exists everywhere! But this year I'm so not into it *sigh* Though I thought this is a great posting about it and fab pictures. I love it too when they use english words with thick arab accents. Thanks for the info Suzie and great job Ann of explaining things!

  14. rpkxHee hee, I love the English things in thick Arabic accent too - like in the supermarket when it is announced that the shop will be closing for "Dime brayerrrr" (Time prayer/prayer time!)

    I am British so this March Madness and basketball means nothing to me but was very impressed in your resourcefulness for obtaining the photos!

    Umm Ibrahim

  15. I truly enjoy reading your blog! I'm an Scandinavian nurse working in Riyadh, and reading your blog gives such good insight into this culture I'm living in, but still know so little about.

  16. Thanks to Ann - for all of your explaining. It helped!

    To AMW & Miss M - Thanks again. I take a special interest in basketball this time of year because one of my brothers back in the states in very involved in the process of selecting the teams who will be in the tournament. Plus I used to be the travel agent for the UofA Athletic Dept. and they made it to the finals many times and even won the championship a few times.

  17. Thanks Umm Ibrahim -
    I thought the photos turned out fairly well, considering...!
    I love the way they sprinkle English words into the Arabic language - it always catches my ear.

    To Anonymous -
    Thanks so much - so glad you are enjoying the blog. There are many great ones out there. Blogging has opened up a whole new world to me that I never paid any attention to before!

  18. As usual. excellent, most informative. Great, Susie! Wynne

  19. Hi Susie, I thoroughly enjoyed reading of your experiences in KSA. I am a New Zealander married to an Iraqi who spent three and a half years in Riyadh. We lived in a housing compound, mainly my husband's idea and our son was born there at the end of 2004. We left in August 2007 so our daughter could be born in Australia. I taught English to Saudi women my first year there and later "became" a kindergarten teacher. I am a journalist by profession and you may be interested in reading some postings of my experiences in Saudi Arabia at:, under Arabian Autographs.
    Good luck over there, I am sure you will find your time there a most rewarding experience.
    Angela Townsend (