Qatar is not easy to get to from the West Coast of Canada.
That hasn’t stopped fans from the Island being among thousands of Canadians who have converged in the region for Canada’s first appearance at the World Cup since 1986.
But only a select few of them can say they have played in the tournament. Jamie Lowery of Victoria is among them. The Port Alberni product and former Vic West stalwart marked France captain Michel Platini in Canada’s first World Cup game 36 years ago in Mexico. Lowery is now in Qatar as a spectator with his daughter and a group from the Island.
Also in the stands will be another Island player, Simon Keith, who many believe would have been on Canada’s team in 1986 and in 1990 and 1994 qualifying if he had not been struck down mid-stride in 1984 with a heart ailment while with the University of Victoria Vikes. He required a heart transplant at age 19.
“Always mixed emotions for me watching World Cups knowing I missed a chance early in my career,” Keith said from the United Arab Emirates, where he is staying. “I am super proud of the Island boys [Lowery, George Pakos and Ian Bridge] and the role they played in ’86 and beyond. However, I definitely got the better end of the deal having my surgery and all that it has brought me and wouldn’t change a single thing.
“I did manage to fulfil a dream of my pops back in 1994 when I got to take him to a World Cup final at the Rose Bowl, watching Brazil win on penalties over Italy, so that remains my favourite World Cup memory.”
The old Island connections still reverberate for Las Vegas-based Keith, who runs the world-wide Simon Keith Foundation advocating for organ donations.
Keith is at the 2022 World Cup with his lifetime friend Ian Klitsie of Victoria.
“Childhood friends at the World Cup. I am so grateful he [Keith] is here after all his battles and that we can do this together,” said Klitsie.
Because Qatar is full, Keith, Klitsie and their respective wives, Kelly and Debbie, are staying in Abu Dhabi, like thousands of other fans, and flying in for the Canada games.
“We fly into Qatar four hours before game time. Kick-off for the first game against Belgium is 10 p.m. Wednesday local time [11 a.m. Pacific] and we fly back to Abu Dhabi at 4 a.m. local time,” said Klitsie.
But it’s worth every bleary-eyed air mile to celebrate an occasion 36 years in the making.
“I think Canada could possibly get out of their group with a win, tie, and a loss,” said Klitsie.
“We are all very grateful and excited for this opportunity to witness it.”
Keith concurred: “I love our team. The momentum built up over qualifying, specifically taking it to the American and Mexican teams, was breathtaking.”
The World Cup ripple is being felt in Abu Dhabi.
“I haven’t been to Qatar yet, but will be to see Canada take on Belgium on Wednesday, but the UAE is, in a word, spectacular. It is indescribable and their philosophies of tolerance, collaboration and peace are absolutely real.
“The people are warm and generous. The place is extremely safe, and the architecture and vision for growth is simply extraordinary. In terms of the World Cup, as expected, it is dominating life here. The restaurants, the streets, the hotels, the beaches are all packed with World Cup fans.”
Qatar is a controversial World Cup host because of its treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums and broader human rights issues. Now it is time for the sport and — whether it’s Qatar, China or Russia rightfully or wrongfully hosting the World Cup or Olympic Games — it always comes down to that basic element.
“I hope everyone that watches or attends the World Cup takes a time out for the lives lost, the treatment of fellow humans, and be blessed for what you have, whomever, and wherever you are,” said Klitsie.
World Cup roundup, B7