A group of Qatar cyclists ride across Europe in a bid to raise money and awareness for the less fortunate every year. We catch up with team captain Marouf Mahmoud.
When the weather is cooler, every Friday morning you’ll find the Qatar Sandstormers cycling along the road to Al Khor or in the evenings down Ceremonial Road. There are only nine of them but with their hobby they have recently made a difference in over 200 families’ lives.
Basically, the Sandstormers cycling group was founded last year in time for the European Global Biking Initiative, which is a charity cycling tour that goes from one European city to another over seven days. ‘What we do is raise money for charity through corporate sponsors and we also get people ready to go on a big, big ride,’ team captain Marouf Mahmoud puts it simply.
Last year they rode for Reach Out to Asia and scholarships in Nepal but this year, Marouf says, they were looking for something a little closer to home. ‘It took us a long time to find a charity or a project managed by a charity that the whole team was very passionate about. Then we stumbled across this project called ‘Beitak Beiti’ which translated literally is ‘your house is my house’.’
The Sheikh Eid Charity Association has rolled out this initiative to provide over 200 underprivileged families in Qatar with basic necessities. Overall, for the first phase, the charity needed over QR300,000 to buy appliances such as safe cooking stoves, air conditioners and fridges. ‘These are families from all nationalities – some are Qatari, some are Indian, Jordanian, Syrian, Pakistani… Sheikh Eid Charity Association has done an amazing job of scanning the whole country and figuring out peoples’ needs.’
In a bid to raise at least QR100,000 of that target, the Qatar Sandstormers headed off to the Global Biking Initiative 2013 in Europe, which took place early last month. It led cyclists all the way from Paris, France to Dusseldorf, Germany. That’s an 850 kilometre ride. ‘The event this year was pretty cool,’ says Marouf who also rode in the 2012 edition. ‘We were known as the ‘fast team’ because you’d find our team leaving instead of at 8am it’d be 10am, pass everybody along the way and arrive at the same time,’ he laughs. ‘It’s not a race, it’s a charity ride so the remarks are more around how ready and fit the team is.’ They also won first prize for being the biggest fundraiser participant.
This year, they were clearly visible as a Qatari team as well, says Marouf, thanks to kits bought for them by Vodafone and sponsorship from companies like Qatar Airways. ‘We’d just be going through the streets and passing by the cafes and you’d have people screaming “Go Qatar!” and people coming out of their car windows,’ he laughs. ‘We’re in little European towns where you don’t even know if they know where Qatar is.’
The charity aspect of things is only a part of what they do, however, says Marouf. ‘The other part is getting people who are new joiners to get into the sport and get fit enough for these types of rides… it takes us the whole year to prep them up for it.’ There’s no limit on how many people can join and you don’t even need to be that fit – you just need to be willing to get fit, train and commit. ‘It’s about challenging yourself and wanting to make a difference in your life and in other peoples’ lives.’
Marouf, himself, has been riding for three years. He became the team captain after last year’s charity ride and has since seen peoples’ lives change. So, he gives his three tips for people who are thinking about joining: ‘Commit. First of all, understand that you need to make a commitment and once you’ve made it just do whatever it takes to train. We take care of giving you all the tips along the way. Train regularly would be the second one and don’t give up.
‘In general I say get involved,’ he adds. ‘It’s always nice to get in touch with the community. It’s a great idea to just make a pledge to get fit this year and try out a new sport.If you can’t find something that you’re passionate about then this is something that you could really be.’
If instead, you’re more interested in the charity, then Beitak Beiti is an ongoing project that is open to donations, while the Qatar Sandstormers are always looking for corporate sponsors to donate either to the project or to their annual trip. For that, they’ll wear the company logo with pride at next year’s ride, which will take them from Budapest, Hungary to Munich, Germany. But they’ll also be finding ways to bring it back home to Qatar. ‘We’re looking to involve everybody in charity and sports, especially the youth and especially cycling. I think it’s an amazing sport.’
220 families involved in the Beitak Beiti Initiative
QR300,000 to be raised overall
QR162,000 raised by Qatar Sandstormers
QR3,000 to be raised by each rider
850 kilometre ride in Europe
400 cyclists from...
7 days of riding
4 to 8 hours every day