Somewhere between the NFL’s official ruling that its Super Bowl champions cheated on their way to the title, and professional Islamophobe Pamela Geller confirming that masses of people can be tricked into co-signing hatred as long as it’s wrapped in a package of “free speech,” one of the biggest news stories of the past week has been England’s royal family welcoming a new addition.
While it wasn’t covered with the same Earth-stopping urgency as the birth of their first child, baby No. 2 for Prince William and Duchess Kate was still a big deal in the media because, well, the royals are some of the most popular people in the world. And that’s even with people who don’t live in countries that answer to kings and queens.
In a recent article for the Times of Oman, reporter Salim Joseph sought to identify the most popular non-royals in the Muslim-majority country that is an absolute monarchy under Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Or as the headline says, “8 most famous Omanis who shot to fame by hard work.”
Included in that group are three men from the sports world: Soccer goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, driver Ahmad Al Harthy, and the chairman of the Oman Football Association, Sayyid Khalid Al Busaidi. Their write-ups from the article:
Ali Al Habsi – Professional footballer
Currently the captain of the national football team and the goalkeeper of English club Wigan Athletic, Ali Al Habsi has been a household name since he began guarding the goal for Oman from 2002. Becoming the first Omani to play international football in Europe, inspiring every single youngster in a country where football is religion, he had a dream run in his career as a goalkeeper, playing for clubs including Al-Nasr, Lyn Oslo (Norway) and Bolton Wanderers before his transfer to Wigan Athletic, where he was named Wigan’s player of the season for the 2010–11 season.
However, his popularity had already soared high in Oman and in the region after he earned the award for best goalkeeper in four consecutive Gulf Cups including the 2009 tournament which Oman won. More than a star football player who has stared down soccer heroes like Robin Van Persie and Carlos Tevez from the spot to earn reputation as one of the hardest keeper to beat, Ali Al Habsi is the true ambassador of Oman, and a synonym for self-confidence, coolness and humility.
Ahmad Al Harthy – Racing driver
He had begun with karting at the age of seven, but had to wait for another 17 years to get his first car racing experience. Now, Ahmad Al Harthy, Oman’s top racing driver and 2012 Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain Pro-Am 1 champion, could be the most popular sports personality in the country next to Ali Al Habsi. His career in motorsport began with the Bahrain-based Thunder Arabia Championship and he became the first Omani driver to compete in formula racing. This was followed by new challenges including the Formula Renault BARC Championship, Britain, with Hillspeed team and Porsche Carrera Cup GB Championship for Redline Racing team, where he won several podiums. He had many successful years, contributing his best for the promotion of motorsport in the country with the support of Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Sports Affairs and several commercial establishments. Just recently announced his plans to take part in the Blancpain Endurance Series and Avon Tyres British GT Championship in the new season with Oman Racing Team.
Sayyid Khalid Al Busaidi – Chairman, Oman Football Association
‘A father, a businessman, a composer and chairman of Oman Football Association (OFA)’, says his Twitter account. Known to have diversified interests and talents, Sayyid Khalid Al Busaidi is definitely one of the most prominent social figures and leaders within professionals and sportsmen in Oman. An Oxford graduate, he had taken up a number of managerial missions for leading companies and institutions. To become fully dedicated to his family businesses, he left his governmental positions during the early 1990s and assumed the Chairmanship of Sabco Group, one of Oman’s large business entities.
In addition, he is also the Chairman of Ahli Bank in Oman and Amouage, one of the world’s well known fragrance brands. But his popularity rose to its zenith when he scripted a new chapter in the sports history of Oman by becoming the first democratically elected chairman of the OFA in 2007. Under him, the Oman Football League got the seal of approval of a professional league in 2013.
As expected, soccer is No. 1 sport in Oman, and Al Habsi said recently that he thinks the upcoming 2022 World Cup in Qatar will only make the game more popular in the Gulf region. Tennis is also popular in Oman, along with swimming, cycling, handball and auto racing. Sports like basketball, rugby, hockey and bullfighting are on the rise.