Sport

This was a memorable world cup for both right and wrong reasons

Enfield sports journalist Andrew Warshaw – attending his tenth world cup – gives his verdict on Qatar 2022

Andrew watched England beat Senegal 3-0 in the second round of the tournament
Andrew watched England beat Senegal 3-0 in the second round of the tournament

Having covered nine world cups as a working journalist, I had always wanted to attend purely as a fan and chose Qatar mainly because of the compact nature of the tournament and the proximity of the stadiums.

My week in Doha was weird and wonderful in terms of the sights, smells and sounds of east meeting west. The crime-free cleanliness; Muslims respectfully called to prayer; local Qataris in their thobes and robes, many with their faces painted in team colours. A world cup of contradictions, with unprepossessing back-street convenience stores sitting side-by-side with the showy signs of affluence.

With the tiny Gulf state not used to being invaded by football fans from all over the world, there was at times a sense of unreality about the whole thing. It often felt somewhat artificial, with fan zones and cafes occasionally giving off a ‘rent-a-crowd’ vibe. But there is no doubting the Arab region’s passion for football. Rarely have I heard more noise from fans than that exuberantly generated by followers of Tunisia and Morocco.

In terms of friendliness and hospitality, one can have few complaints, notwithstanding the ongoing and important narrative about migrant workers’ rights which continues to hang over the event and deserves to long after the final whistle. The Qataris put on a welcoming front, though whether that mitigated the entirely justifiable debate about whether the country should have been awarded the tournament in the first place, let alone it being staged in winter, is highly questionable.

There were a number of niggles, not least the exorbitant cost of stadium food and drink which, in the case of a bottle of water, was ten times more than in a side-street convenience store. Security was tight (so tight that I had something as innocent as a pen confiscated after being told I could stab someone with it) but it was also remarkably quick and courteous. On one occasion, having explained politely that the strange-looking cream-coloured liquid in my rucksack was in fact stomach medicine, staff on the gates were understanding.

Andrew meets French football fans in Doha
Andrew and his cousin (second from right) meet French football fans in Doha

Another plus was the almost total absence of ticket touts and the feeling of being constantly safe – an important factor, especially for the more absent-minded visitor such as this writer. The chance of being pickpocketed or mugged in the street was virtually nil.

As for the unavailability of alcohol in and around stadiums, it had little adverse effect. Only once did I see any supporter being even close to looking inebriated (an England fan I might add). If you wanted a drink badly enough, searched hard enough and had sufficient funds at your disposal, you could find a licensed bar to watch matches – provided you booked in advance. Invariably these were exclusive venues located at swanky hotels where, for a hefty fee (of course), you could buy a daily pass and sometimes enjoy a swim in the sea.

Not all them were exclusive, however. One Brit-styled pub, reputed to be the cheapest in town (still the equivalent of £25 for three drinks with a voucher), was a throwback to the 1970s but not, at my age, for me. Though the atmosphere was fantastic, you could hardly breathe for the cigarette smoke or move because it was so rammed.

Qatar, as we know, spent an eye-watering amount on building the infrastructure for this world cup. There are legitimate questions to be asked about what happens to all of it when everything gets back to normal – not just the stadiums but also the hundreds of accommodation blocks built especially for the tournament.

Was it right and proper to expect the players, rather than politicians, to fly the flag for human rights? There are serious shortcomings when it comes to Qatar’s laws and treatment of migrant workers, but there have also been double standards. Among the many pontificating commentators and sporting figures who have lambasted Qatar’s right to host, a fair few have been only too happy to take the regime’s money when it suits them – whether working for the local broadcasting company or taking advantage of Qatar’s excellent training facilities.

That the tiny country half the size of Wales got ‘lucky’ winning the vote to host back in 2010 is undeniable – scandalous even. But it is also undeniable that the Middle East as a whole deserved its chance to showcase the region’s attributes.


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