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Chaos and anger at Fifa fan festival on Qatar’s ‘extraordinary day’ | World Cup 2022

JA few minutes before the start of the first World Cup organized in the Middle East, the prospect of seeing the Ecuadorian Enner Valencia put Qatar to the sword seems remote. “Sorry, sir, we’re fully booked,” says the butler of Desert Rose, one of the few game-serving restaurants in Doha’s Souk Waqif. Their outdoor screens, however, can be seen from the sidewalk. “Sorry, sir, you can’t stay here,” a polite but firm security guard said. “Go on your way, sir.”

Walking through the bustling alleys and squares, there is little evidence to back up Qatar head coach Félix Sánchez’s claim that it will be “an extraordinary day like no other”. At least not at Souq Waqif, a rare example of Qatari architecture in Doha where market stalls and shisha lounges abound and TV stations from around the world have set up studios for this authentic setting (Souq Waqif has been renovated in 2006).

Bulgarian great Hristo Stoichkov brings a touch of authenticity to the World Cup by interviewing a huge golden thumb. Nearby, three Mexican fans in Arab attire, including one wearing a wrestling mask, appear on local television. Otherwise, there are more journalists looking for World Cup fans than fans – local or otherwise – looking to watch the opening match of what Fifa President Gianni Infantino would dispute as a Revolutionary World Cup. Old men push wheelbarrows through the streets and cafe terraces are mostly filled with locals smoking shisha pipes.

It was a different and more ominous picture at the Fifa Fan Festival at Al Bidda Park further up the Corniche. The venue has an official capacity of 40,000 but for the second day since opening there were chaotic scenes at the venue. Organizers allowed too many fans into the venue before kick-off. One report estimated that double the capacity had attempted to enter. They were kept in a waiting area between the main festival grounds and the perimeter entrance before being driven back.

“It was dangerous,” said a fan carrying a nearly four-year-old child, who had come out of the waiting area. “They let too many people in. We never made it to the main area and I was happy to leave.” Police took around 45 minutes to weed out the excess fans amid angry scenes. Another headache for Fifa, which has somehow managed to add to the controversy surrounding the tournament in recent days.

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Chaos and anger at Fifa fan festival on Qatar's 'extraordinary day' | World Cup 2022

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Fans are encouraged to descend on Al Bidda Park – where Fifa sponsors such as Budweiser can sell their wares, alcoholic or zero (taste) – as options to immerse themselves in the World Cup experience elsewhere at Doha are complicated to say the least. Many visitors have arrived at their expensive hotels to find that the price does not include access to matches on TV. Many hotels have balked at paying host broadcaster BeIN Sports a subscription fee of 100,000 Qatari riyals (£23,105 at today’s exchange rate) to broadcast the World Cup in their restaurants, bars and rooms. The same goes for owners of private villas and apartments that are rented out to fans around the world. It’s off to the Fifa Fan Festival, provided you have an official Hayya pass.

The aptly named “La Boca” is another restaurant showing the opening of the World Cup in Souq Waqif. But elsewhere, and despite some cheers when Ecuador’s first goal was disallowed, it’s Sunday as usual. During the hour-long walk to the souk via bustling Al Jazeera Street, one occasionally sees Qataris embracing a moment of great sporting significance to the Arab world. Families also gather in front of a big screen at Millennium Plaza – children, women and men all dressed in Qatar gear – and cheer every time the national team coach appears on the screen en route. to the Al Bayt stadium nearly 50 km north of Doha.

Outside a pet store near Souq Waqif Hassan and five of his friends sit staring at a laptop screen pad repeatedly during the opening ceremony. Their desperation at the Wifi signal does not detract from their warm hospitality. A plastic chair and a coffee came out of the store for the passing English journalist. “It’s the biggest day in the world and it’s happening here. You have to understand how important it is,” says Hassan. “No matter what happens in the game, we have already won. Qatar could saying that was the point.The laptop starts buffering again.


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