Fans arriving at the World Cup in Qatar will face heat, tight security and a last-minute alcohol ban

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dated: 2022-11-19 20:15:05 .

A Mexican fan walks outside the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center in Doha on November 19, 2022 ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/Getty Images

Twenty-four hours before the 2022 World Cup, fans are pouring into the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, even as human rights concerns and questions about how the conservative Muslim country will deal with the influx of foreigners continue to haunt the tournament. .

The talking point on Saturday was the reversal of Qatari authorities’ decision to allow beer sales in stadiums, a last-minute move to limit alcohol sales to specially designated fan zones. FIFA president Gianni Infantino joked with reporters earlier in the day, saying, “If you can’t drink beer for three hours a day, you’ll survive.”

However, the rule change has reignited concerns over whether Qatar will abandon other commitments, such as accepting LGBTQ people despite the country’s ban on homosexuality.

Qatar is spending billions to make the World Cup a success – and improve its global reputation

For most fans who spoke to The Globe and Mail in Doha on Saturday, the alcohol decision was not a big surprise. Canadian Peter McCormick, who flew in from Ottawa with his family, said he “always kind of expected it.”

“Obviously they were on guard from the start,” he said.

For some, the news arrived in the middle of the flight to Doha.

“A girl told me this morning,” said Paul Gayet, a British fan. But with the sale of alcohol in stadiums at home as banned in many European countries – a legacy of anti-hooliganism laws – Mr Gayet said he never expected anything else from Qatar.

“I’m a Tottenham fan and I played a bit too hard in Marseille recently and I don’t remember the game at all so maybe that helps.”

He was impressed by Qatar, especially the free transport for all fans and the atmosphere that gradually built on Saturday as people flew in from all over the world.

“It’s been great so far,” Mr Gayet said. “We met all these Senegalese fans coming off the subway and then a bunch of Argentinians, it was absolutely brilliant.”

That familiarity with other fans was one of the qualities Mr Infantino praised in favor of Qatar on Saturday. The emirate – not much bigger than Prince Edward Island – is the smallest country to ever host the World Cup. This means that all visitors will actually share one city, and not spread over different locations as in previous tournaments.

Other unique aspects of Qatar are less welcoming, not least the heat. The climate remains crisp in mid-November, especially in the concrete flats of central Doha’s Fan Festival district – where tens of thousands will gather each night to watch music and other acts, with high prices for refreshments and some shade.

However, fans can look for shade – or even air conditioning. Around the venue where the World Cup was held, hundreds of security and liaison workers stood all day in the heat directing fans to different locations.

Workers’ rights were a major concern in the run-up to the World Cup and one of the areas where Qatar has made the most progress – at least on paper. At his news conference on Saturday, Mr Infantino pointed to the end of the kafala system, which essentially tied migrant workers to their employers, and restrictions on how much people could work outside in the summer.

“How many of these European or Western companies that earn millions and millions in Qatar or other countries in the region, billions a year, how many of them raised the issue of the rights of migrant workers with the authorities?” he said of FIFA’s efforts. “I have an answer for you: none of them. Because every change in the law means less profit.”

The FIFA president dismissed concerns that people would not be able to see the tournament because of disagreements over Qatar’s treatment of workers or the criminalization of homosexuality.

“If you want to stay at home and say how bad they are, those Arabs or Muslims or whatever, because it’s not allowed to be gay in public? Of course, as FIFA president, I believe it should be allowed, but I went through the process,” Mr Infantino said. “If I asked my father the same question … he would probably have a different answer.”

Mr McCormick said his decision to come was not influenced by the various criticisms leveled at Qatar. His brother lives in the emirate and the family had always wanted to visit him – and the World Cup made it an obvious time to do so.

The Canadian fan, however, was a bit surprised at how controlled everything was.

“We went to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, it was more free,” he said. “Here, security is everywhere, it’s much more organized, but also much more limited.”

How this insurance will deal with the hordes of fans that will be roaming the country in the coming days remains to be seen. Authorities have promised a “soft” approach, with liaison officers from the UK and a number of other countries working with them to mediate incidents.

The potential for rabid fans remains high, especially as some stadiums are in remote locations that can only be reached by bus – often involving long walks in the sun to get transport.

There are also concerns about fan villages, hastily erected makeshift shelters that will house thousands of people for the duration of the tournament. Many arrive this weekend to find their villages still under construction and often lacking facilities, refreshments and security.

The Qataris can at least count on the public positivity of a certain group of fans: those whose flights and hotel accommodation have been paid for by the authorities.

“We’re not sure what to say publicly, whether we’re allowed to criticize things,” said Darius, a paying fan from Ireland, who asked not to be identified by name for that very reason. “We haven’t been given any guidance – just not to do anything that would cause controversy.”

He said he was painfully aware of criticism of the Qatar World Cup: “It was the most contradictory thing I’ve ever felt about a holiday.”

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Fans arriving at the World Cup in Qatar will face heat, tight security and a last-minute alcohol ban

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