By Mukesh Sharma
Doha, Oct 21 (IANS): For one day, ‘Suhail and ‘Thuraya took over the conversation in World Cup-bound Qatar as the names of international football stars to arrive soon in the country took the backstage.
These two names trending online in Qatar flew more than 5,000 km to reach the country. Accompanied by experts, they received a grand welcome in Qatar where government officials and diplomats busy with FIFA World Cup preparations rejigged their schedules to join the celebrations on Wednesday.
The Chinese giant pandas were then sent to 21-day quarantine.
Si Hai and Jing Jing's names have morphed into Thuraya and Suhail, respectively, probably in line with the local culture. With the arrival of the much-loved mammals, Qatar became the first country in the Middle East to house giant pandas.
"Today is my happiest day in Qatar in the past three years. We gather at this newly completed and beautiful Panda Park in Al Khor to welcome the special envoys of friendship from China," Chinese Ambassador to Qatar, Zhou Jian, said.
The pandas were shipped from the world-famous panda sanctuary in China's Sichuan province.
Before arriving in Doha, the two pandas were given a grand send-off from China. Qatari Ambassador to China Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Dehaimi told state-run Global Times: "Their arrival in Qatar ahead of the World Cup is a testament to the deep friendship between the two countries."
He described the pandas as "a gift from the Chinese people to the Qatari people".
The FIFA World Cup will be held in Qatar from November 20 to December 18 this year.
Si Hai is a female giant panda born in Shenshuping base in Wolong National Nature Reserve on July 26, 2019, and Jing Jing is a male, born in the Shenshuping base on September 19, 2018. They have been living at the Ya'an Base since their birth.
In May 2020, China and Qatar signed an agreement on giant panda protection and research to promote international cooperation in the field and to boost the protection of endangered species and biodiversity in the two countries.