Looking outside of the hotel room in Male, one would find people playing football at 2 AM. A straw poll will tell you, on an average, 2 AM is a good time to be asleep. Playing football wouldn’t usually be the most common choice, unless one accounts for extreme passion for the sport. In the 2018 global FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour, if there was one country that waited for trophy most passionately, it was the Maldives.
Passion has rarely to do with the size of a population and more to do with the love in their hearts. When it comes to football, Maldivians have the probably the most love. In Male, an island of size 5.8 sq km, packed with 23,000 people per sq km., there is a national stadium and two turf football grounds. The anxiousness the organising team had with regards to the event had more to do with accommodating for this enormous passion in a limited amount of time, than basic logistical issues.
When the trophy came, it was more than just a red carpet that was laid out. There were also water canon salutes for the plane carrying the trophy, VVIP boats, an armed boat-a-cade, motorcade (with ambulance and fire engine) and some of the sharpest and most agile security forces laid out. While that was what the organising team of Football Association of Maldives and Male Aerated Water Company put up with help of the government of Maldives, thousands of fans turned up at the first public event in the middle of the night just to get a glimpse of the trophy. The next day, 5000 (luckier ones) of them turned up with tickets, very early to get up close and personal with trophy. These people came from islands far and away to get a glimpse of that which united them with billions. Complete with live telecast from the moment the trophy landed till the time it departed, the whole event was nothing less than a national celebration.
Maldivians get their regular dose of top-name global celebrities owing to the country’s world-class resorts and hospitality. They come and they go without much fanfare. The FIFA World Cup Trophy was a celebrity that got everyone from leadership of the country to the amateur footballers excited. And when you are excited, you can’t sleep. And when you can’t sleep, you might as well play football at 2 AM.