For the love of the game: How a compliance officer and chief accountant turned cricket journalists
How two middle-aged Sri Lankans turned cricket journalists stemming from their love towards the game.
It was a Monday evening like no other day in Doha. A surprising and refreshing spell of afternoon rain had left the capital city chilly. Hence the delayed start for the Legends League Cricket match between Asia Lions and World Giants at the West End Park International Cricket Stadium wasn't all that frustrating for the spectators as the ground staff worked hard to get the pitch dry for the match to start. After a long wait, the toss took place and a bunch of journalists stationed outside the boundary ropes took their seats. Suddenly, two gentlemen come running in, one with a camera stand, the other with a bag. The elder one, Mohamed Rishard, 35, sheepishly smiled as said, 'We got off late from office, then traffic. Hope we didn't miss anything'. Mujeeb, the other gentleman, 29, quickly set up his camera in time to capture the two openers making their way to the crease.
At the first glance, Rishard and Mujeeb were identified as journalists like - they had the media accreditation card around their neck. But there was more than what met the eye. When Rishard said 'late from office', he was referring to his day job at the Gulf Exchange where he works as a compliance officer and an internal branch control officer. His partner Mujeeb, on the other hand, is a Chief Accountant at Papa Jones. It was his passion for photography and love for sports that drove Mujeeb's tired body to the ground every single day of the LLC Masters.
The Sri Lankan-born Rishard came to Qatar 12 years ago. Like most other kids from the subcontinent, he too loved watching and playing cricket, his 'favourite' sport. But being inspired by Arjuna Ranatunga-led side's historic 1996 World Cup feat aside, Rishard uttered the names of Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, and Navjot Singh Sidhu in awe. "Another player was Nayan Mongia. I vividly remember being amazed by how fast he would run between the wicket with the pads and gloves on and also his wicket keeping (laughs)," he says.
But unlike any other cricket lover from the subcontinent, Rishard never dreamt of playing professional cricket. His passion lay somewhere else. "From my childhood days, I wanted to be a photographer so when I came to Qatar. I went around with a camera capturing events happening here," his eyes glittered as he recalled. He did work towards his dream back in Sri Lanka, taking up a part-time job in broadcasting channels, but in Qatar, he opted for a steadier source of income. "When I came to Qatar, it was only work. There was no place for passion. We only played on off days, most of which were abandoned in the summer due to dusty weather," he added.
Rishard however kept gradually building towards his dream. In 2015, he sought to hone his photography skills by watching YouTube videos and later during lockdown, started learning the art of broadcasting after keenly observing a few people. YouTube was once again the source of learning. And the first breakthrough came shortly after, in October of 2020, when he met Mujeeb, a fellow Sri Lankan, who came to Qatar in 2014.
"I met Mujeeb in Qatar. I had thought of becoming a radio jockey. One of my friends told me about this Facebook post he had come across. There were no details mentioned. All it said that they were looking for an RJ. I called him (Mujeeb) up, we met and that is how it started. I remember on the first day I had brought my notebook with me and was jotting down everything that was happening because that was my first experience in this field. Now I don't need notes anymore. I just memorise the 3-4 points I need to speak on," Rishard said of joining Q Tamil Radio, where "'Q' is for Qatar and 'Tamil Radio' because our broadcast happens in Tamil language.".
"My work as a radio jockey also fits in after the office work," he explained when asked how he managed to pull off his day job and work as an RJ. "It is generally between 6-7 pm. I have one program of my own - Week in Doha - where I talk about sports and technology and the new things happening in Doha. Most events in Doha are held during the weekdays. Weekends are off so we tend to adjust accordingly."
For many, Covid lockdown was a period of pain, but for the two Sri Lankans in Qatar, it was a period of new beginning. After a successful start with their radio channel, Mujeeb and Rishard, who by then had become friends with shared interests, began a social media handle by the same name where they began posting videos and photographs of events they covered. Mostly sports. "So 8-5 was our work in the office and by 6 o'clock we were already running to events. We click photos, record videos and broadcast it the next day in the morning on our channel. And two days of the week is radio time," explained Rishard.
The first event they covered was a Futsal tournament in 2021 which was organised by the Sri Lankan community in Qatar. "We were shivering (laughs). Holding the camera amid the crowd, we were a bit nervous because we didn't know what people would say. We were in two minds, and a little bit shy as well. But after 2-3 events we got a hang of it. It gave us a good experience and we learned a lot of things," he said before listing out a bunch of events they have been part of.
Besides dwelling into events pertaining to agriculture and technology, their list of sports tournaments includes the Amir Cup, the biggest football tournament in Qatar, the recently-concluded Legends Cricket League, which is their first ever cricket event. But their biggest event was in December last year, of which the entire Qatar is still in a hangover mood.
"Our biggest success so far was when he got our FIFA media card. During those days, we used to come home at 5 in the evening from the office and quickly go to the stadium to cover the fan zone and meet people of various cultures. We used to return home at around 2 and then again wake up in the morning to go to the office," Rishard said.
The Facebook page of Q Tamil Radio now boasts 18000 followers and 11000 likes. "When we started the radio channel, the early days were hard. I had only 3-4 viewers on Tamil Radio. Now it has gone up to 80-90 in real time. At the end of the day, we saw there were 2000 viewers. For sports, we did not struggle for recognition initially because we were approached to broadcast the events," he said while proudly showing the video of Shoaib Akhtar playing the drums after one of the matches at the LLC which had gone viral on his TikTok account.
"Can we go and cover the IPL in India?" Rishard posed the question with a serious tone to one of the journalists at the LLC as Mujeeb smiled, overhearing the conversation while capturing Irfan Pathan near the boundary ropes. He then turned the camera to get a clip of a bunch of India and Pakistan fans right next to the Asia Lions dugout.
After the success in FIFA, the pair now wants to take their page global and more than IPL, they have set their eyes on 2023 ODI World Cup, slated to happen in India in October. "If we get a chance, we will definitely come. We have an annual vacation thing at the office so I can take about 10 days off and come to India to cover at least the semi-final and final," Rishard said.
But the next sports event the two want to tick off is the MotoGP event in Qatar, which will take place in November. Mujeeb and Rishard however don't want to be recognised as mere photographers or videographers. "We want to do everything. We did live as well and interacted with fans. We ultimately want to become one very good Tamil sports channel in Qatar. And when the right time comes, I will quit this job for my dream job," exclaimed the 35-year-old.
The two form only a small part of a larger community in Qatar, of passionate sports loving people who are willing to drive themselves to the ground after an arduous day at their job, and are willing to play a bigger and significant role.
"There are more people like me, a lot of bloggers especially. It is a good opening for them because probably they too did not have much opportunity back in their home country. And most importantly, we need to do something outside our work life. I'm sure there are more people there who want to be like us, probably they can do better than us and we are ready to support them and welcome them," Rishard said.