Despite criticisms, Qatar 2022 promises spectacular show of football

Even before the first ball was kicked, Qatar 2022 became one of the most controversial World Cup finals in recent memory, as the host country’s laws and its many restrictions drew the ire of many of the participating teams...
People gather in front of the World Cup countdown clock in Doha on November 17, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)
People gather in front of the World Cup countdown clock in Doha on November 17, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

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Even before the first ball was kicked, Qatar 2022 became one of the most controversial World Cup finals in recent memory, as the host country’s laws and its many restrictions drew the ire of many of the participating teams, with Europeans the most vociferous.
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While Brazil 2014 was criticised for the long distances fans had to travel to follow their teams, Qatar’s many don’ts and restrictions were considered outrageous by many who felt that agreeing to organise such a big competition compelled the host to open its doors to differing cultures, even if it is only for the duration of the event.

It is said that a World Cup is as good as the football on the pitch and the joy, fanfare and pride the beautiful game gives its adherents.

A World Cup devoid of freedom of movement and the ‘care free’ atmosphere usually exploited by lovers of the game is like a well-prepared meal with no diners to savour the chow.

The criticism had become so fierce that even the former FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, under whose watch the event was awarded to Qatar, joined the mob.

But is Qatar 2022, which slogan is ‘Now is All,’ that restrictive?
Qatar insists the notoriety of its World Cup is unfair. It argues that critics of its culture are those, who want the country to bend all its rules and dictates of its religion, Islam, to accommodate inanities.
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It sees Qatar 2022, the first World Cup in the Middle East, as an event that promises to help grow the sport, inspire youth, boost tourism, diversify the country’s economy and promote sustainability. And with regional tensions partly eased by the lifting of an economic blockade by Qatar’s neighbours last year, there are hopes it could also prove a unifying force.

The hosts promised that all visitors would be welcome regardless of race, religion, gender or sexuality, but they also want their laws and culture to be respected, and many LGBT (gay) fans say they have not received the assurances over safety that they needed.

While some countries have advised gay fans to show some ‘flex and compromise,’ others have sought assurances from Qatari authorities of the safety of homosexuals.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch, which said members of Qatar’s LGBTQ+ community were detained and physically abused by the country’s security services, has done little to ease the tension. Nor did a World Cup ambassador’s much-criticised comments that homosexuality is “damage in the mind”. How all this can be reconciled with the promise of a ‘World Cup for all’ remains unclear.

FIFA recently advised participating nations to focus on the game rather than getting dragged into every ideological or political battle.

The world football governing is worried about how and where to draw the line. No country is perfect, after all. And its stance received support from the football confederations of both Asia and South America.
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Nigerians, who are not expected to want to travel to Qatar in their numbers because of Super Eagles’ failure to qualify, may have been spared the outrageously high costs of going to watch the global spectacle.

Researchers say this year’s World Cup is arguably the most expensive ever, with tickets to watch the final at Doha’s Lusail Stadium on December 18 apparently costing 46 per cent more than those for the final in Russia four years ago.

As things are, only the wealthy will find a trip to Qatar affordable. To watch the three group games, a fan will have to pay as much as out $4,710. This includes, a return economy class ticket, accommodation with three to four people sharing a room, COVID-19 testing, internal transport and a police report, which is a requirement for entry into Qatar.

Qatari landlords, according to reports, want to reap the benefits of the World Cup, with most one-bedroom flats in the Pearl (Doha’s high-class residential area on an artificial island) priced at more than $1,000 per night on Airbnb.

However, FIFA and the local organising committee (LOC) have built a fan village with temporary cabins, charging about $200 per night.

World Cup tournaments are usually watering holes for ravellers because football matches and beer are known to go together. But in Qatar, fans will find themselves having to go easy on the cold ones — hard as it will be given it will be hot out there.

According to Times of South Africa, “the 2021 World Beer Index by Expensivity, Qatar has the most expensive beer prices in the world with an average price of $11.25 for a 330ml bottle,” almost what you’d pay for 24 bottles of the same size in some African countries.

But even with the exorbitant cost of the beverage, fans are not allowed to drink in stadiums. FIFA on Friday confirmed that alcohol would be banned for World Cup fans at grounds in a major and unprecedented volte-face just two days before the tournament will kick off in Qatar.
“Following discussions between host country authorities and FIFA, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the Fifa Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters.

“There is no impact to the sale of Bud Zero, which will remain available at all Qatar’s World Cup stadiums.” It added: “Host country authorities and Fifa will continue to ensure that the stadiums and surrounding areas provide an enjoyable, respectful and pleasant experience for all fans. The tournament organisers appreciate AB InBev’s [the brewer of Budweiser, Anheuser-Busch InBev] understanding and continuous support to our joint commitment to cater for everyone during the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022.”

The sale of alcohol is strictly controlled in Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation, but organisers had promised that it would be available in match venues and in fan zones – and that it would also be reasonable priced.

However, it has now decided that alcohol will be available at matches only in hospitality boxes, where the cheapest suites are almost $25,000 a match, and some fan zones after 7.00 p.m.

According to reports, the decision was taken after the Qataris, as the host nation, decided that everyone inside World Cup stadiums had to feel comfortable – and that this would not be the case if fans were seen drinking alcohol or turned up drunk.

Reuters reports that Qatar allows alcohol to be served in some designated areas like the fan zones, but not openly on the streets.

Recently, Qatar 2022 CEO, Nasser Al Khater, disclosed that there would be areas for drunk fans to sober up.
“I know that there are plans in place for people to sober up if … they’ve been drinking excessively,” Al Khater said, adding it was to make sure they were safe and not harmful to others or themselves and said it was ‘a good idea.’
Al Khater also repeated assurances that LGBTQ+ fans were welcome and would feel at ease in Qatar. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, as it is in many countries in the Middle East.

“Everybody is welcome here and everybody will feel safe when they come to Qatar,” he said when asked for his message to LGBTQ+ fans.

When asked if that included gay fans holding hands in public, he said: “Yes”. He said, “yes” again when asked if that was a message of reassurance.

Tournament organisers have previously stressed that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or background, is welcome in Qatar, while also warning fans against public displays of affection.

Qatar is a Muslim nation, with laws, customs and practices rooted in Islam. The country is neither as liberal as Dubai in the United Arab Emirates nor as conservative as parts of Saudi Arabia. Most of its citizens are Sunni Muslim.

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