x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Al Wasl superfan has spread club from Somalia, to Obama, to Guinness Book

John McAuley writes about Salem Al Karbi, an Al Wasl supporter who has done everything from producing the recognised world's largest football scarf for the club to sending a yellow Wasl shirt to Barack Obama.

A custom-made Barack Obama Al Wasl shirt. Photo Courtesy / Salem Al Karbi
A custom-made Barack Obama Al Wasl shirt. Photo Courtesy / Salem Al Karbi

It is a journey that has taken Salem Al Karbi to war-torn Somalia, the Whitehouse and potentially to the top of the world.

The Dubai-based football fan says his love for Al Wasl no knows bounds, although he has spent the past four years trying to, quite literally, quantify it.

A lifelong Wasl supporter, Al Karbi has for some time dreamt of weird and wonderful ways to promote his favourite team’s name across the globe – one such enterprise involved Barack Obama - and in March he entered the Guinness World Records for constructing the longest football scarf in history.

His piece, made up of more than 1,000 individual scarves knitted together, stretched a mammoth 1,192.5 metres. When Guinness, who now have a Middle East office in Media City, sent their judges to officially recognise the record at Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium, the scarf was laid out around the touchline of the pitch. It circled the playing surface five times.

“Now any club, be it Real Madrid or Barcelona, who wants to break this, I tell them to go ahead,” said Al Karbi, a 29-year-old administrative clerk at Tawazun, the strategic investment firm in Abu Dhabi. “Because my name’s first on the list.”

Such was Al Karbi’s commitment to the cause, that Guinness had to compile a new list altogether. When in London in 2010, Al Karbi contacted the primary authority on world records to enquire about making the longest scarf on the planet. Informed it stood at 33 kilometres, he calculated surpassing that mark would cost him upwards of Dh1 million. So Karbi wrote to Guinness and suggested they create a new category, specific to football clubs.“So they told me to start with 1,000m,” he said. “Which was 1,000 scarves. It cost me Dh10,000, so I made a 99 per cent discount.”

With the green light, finally, from Guinness, and then Wasl’s permission to use the club logo, Al Karbi went to get the scarf made at a market in Sharjah’s industrial city. Two weeks later, he had his world record.

“I gave them one scarf, and asked them to make 1,000 more, and they were very surprised,” Al Karbi said. “I wanted to keep the attempt secret, so I told them it was for a festival at the club. I even asked them to give me 100 more for free, in case there were any problems with the record. That’s risk management.”

“Phase 2”, as Al Karbi calls it, is to hang the scarf from the top of Burj Khalifa. Should he be granted permission, Al Karbi will auction off the scarf with the proceeds to go to the Faraj Fund, a scheme run by the Ministery of Interior that offers financial aid to prisoners.

“People are always asking me what I will do next,” he said. “What is the new crazy thing in my head? Ever since I sent the Wasl jersey to Obama.”

You read right. In January 2009, while watching Obama’s inauguration on television in a Dubai hotel, Al Karbi began to imagine America’s 44th president decked out in Wasl yellow. So he logged on to the Whitehouse’s official website and called the number listed. Apparently, they loved his story.

“Seeing Obama, my mind started turning over,” said Al Karbi, who once travelled to Somalia to donate 25 Wasl shirts at a charity match. “I thought ‘why not welcome him to his new job with our club jersey, to create good relations with the Whitehouse’. So I did.”

Nine months of perseverance paid off; Al Karbi was asked to bring the jersey, replete with the No 44 on its back, to the US embassy in Abu Dhabi. Two weeks later he was invited back, where he was presented with a letter saying Obama was grateful for the gift. Al Karbi might not be Wasl’s most famous fan, after all.

“I love my club,” he said. “Anything I can do for it, I will. Supporters are not there only to go to the match, take their seats and eat food. They must do more. Even if it’s crazy.”

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