Twist again: Miqdad al Suwaidi (left) plays foosball at the Tornado Sports Cafe, which he owns.
Miqdad al Suwaidi is top of the table for foosball in the UAE – and has the battle scars to prove it, Keach Hagey writes.
That Miqdad al Suwaidi is a professional is clear from the moment he approaches the foosball table. Eyes downcast, mouth slack with seriousness, he wraps a tennis racket grip around the wooden handles of the table’s central rods and snaps a rubber band on the end of each. Then he wraps a yellow vinyl brace around each wrist. If the scene had a soundtrack, it would be Eye of the Tiger. “This skin area right here is very sensitive, so from shooting too much you can actually tear your skin and start bleeding,” he said. “It happened to me way too many times, so I got smarter and eventually started using protection on my wrist.”
At first glance, al Suwaidi does not seem like the kind of guy who would bleed for his sport, let alone win world championships. The diminutive Abu Dhabi native, 36, wears fashionably sporty clothes and radiates the manic, hospitable energy of a club promoter. The grandson of a pearl diver, he spent four years as an analyst at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, before switching over to help his father run the Bin Jabr Group, a property, construction and manufacturing company.
But since becoming the first person from the UAE to win a major international foosball title in 1996 until this year, when he ranked first place in the professional division in singles and doubles at the world championship in Las Vegas, he has also been a driving force for foosball in the Middle East. Foosball, also known as table football or soccer, was invented by an Englishman in the 1920s but became popular around the world as a bar game in the 1970s. It lost much of its allure with the rise of video games in the 1980s, but recently has been making a comeback. In 2002, the International Table Soccer Federation was established in France to promote and regulate the sport. In the last five years, more than 60 countries have established competitive leagues and federations – and Suwaidi wants the UAE to be the next one.
He dreams of creating a league parallel to the country’s football league, with foosball teams corresponding to the al Jazeera, Al Ain and Al Wahda football teams. “If we can get tables in there and try to talk to the managers to see if we could maybe form league, we could have teams from every club competing, just like they do in a football league,” he said. But for now, he’s intent on building on the 250 players he has registered and ranked at his website, www.uaefoosball.com, (he ranks number one, naturally), and on training for the upcoming World Cup of foosball in Nantes, France next month. The foosball World Cup occurs every four years, a year before the real football equivalent.
“When I practice for a major event, I practice about three hours a day,” he said. “I practice alone for about two hours, passing and shooting, and then I practice against some competitors for about an hour.” Sometimes this happens on the two foosball tables he has at his Abu Dhabi home, and other times at the gaming club he owns, the Tornado Sports Cafe. The club is named after the brand of American-built foosball tables he grew to love while attending college at Boston University, but also offers PlayStation games, touch-screen games and a second floor dedicated to online gaming that resembles a nocturnal exhibit at the zoo. The club is open daily from 10am until 3am, but he says the pressure from his clients to keep it open 24 hours is intense.
Suwaidi doesn’t understand the allure of online gaming. He prefers the physicality of foosball which, though one step removed from the grassy pitch, is still much more of a sport than a video game. “It’s very exciting to actually be face-to-face with your opponent,” he said. “You get to move around and be physical.” But physicality, of course, brings the risk of injury. In addition to bloody wrists, he’s hurt his shoulder and his hip – “because you switch from left to right” – during combat on the table.
“And,” he added, “you get headaches from concentrating.”