LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Fans rate Qatar 2022!

Festival of football or costly folly? Fans decide!

Two fans, one English and one Egyptian, reveal their personal experiences of Qatar 2022

When it comes to the 2022 World Cup, there have been countless column inches devoted to the dealings that landed Qatar the competition in the first place, its suitability as a host and issues related to human rights and migrant workers.

But what is it actually like in Doha right now? Is it truly a festival of football where all are welcome, as the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy would have us believe? Or an intimidating, overpriced beer-free desert full of fake fans and no atmosphere, as has also been suggested?

To find out, Libero correspondent Jonathan Bennett speaks to England fan and Doha-based teacher Ian Macey, and Egyptian Zico Hendy, who spent much of his childhood in Qatar, returning to enjoy the World Cup with his wife.

Khalifa International Stadium

“I’ve watched the first two England games,” explains Ian, who visited the Khalifa International Stadium for the Iran match. “It was actually really nice, with comfortable seats and decent air conditioning. The only problem was that there were nowhere near enough toilets and far too many queues. The atmosphere was also a bit flat, despite the score.”

“The Al Bayt Stadium for the USA match was much bigger and better organised, and it felt much more like a tense World Cup game, with lots of partisan chanting. On the downside, it’s 50km from Doha city centre. Catching an Uber after the game isn’t exactly easy when you’re competing with 10,000 other fans.”

With Egypt failing to qualify, Zico has been taking in as many games as possible. As well as cheering on Qatar and England – two countries where he used to live – he has also had the chance to enjoy watching his hero Lionel Messi in the flesh. “I’ve been to 974, Al Bayt, Khalifa and Lusail, and I’ve just got back from Cameroon-Serbia (3-3) at the Al Janoub Stadium. What a match!”

Doha/Ian Macey

Zico has been impressed with the overall organisation of the tournament. “I feel like everything is designed to make the life of the fans as smooth as possible, right down to the smallest detail. For example, anyone with a fan ID is entitled to a free SIM card with free internet and calls.”

While Ian admits that most things have been running smoothly, he hasn’t been too impressed with the ticketing system. “Even though I’m working here, I have had massive issues with the Hayya Card – they wouldn’t recognise my school’s accommodation as valid. I had to book a hotel and cancel it again just to get the card, but even that only worked for a few days. In the end, some other English fans gave me their accommodation details instead, which seemed to do the trick.”

Another major criticism of the decision to hand Qatar the World Cup has been its inaccessibility. Zico admits: “There aren’t quite as many fans as I expected, probably because of the expense. At the same time, I feel like it’s got a really special international atmosphere, with fans from all around the world”.

Doha beach bar/Ian Macey

Ian also has mixed feelings in this regard. “You can definitely enjoy the tournament – there are plenty of bars showing games, and the service is excellent. I’m currently sat in a beach bar watching a match with a beer, in fact. The only problem is when you get your bill and it’s £120 for a few hours. Your heart sinks.”

As a semi-local, Zico is understandably enthusiastic about Qatar as a venue, and is amazed by the transformation of a city he has known so well for so many years. “I think the fan zones, the activities and how the city looks for the World Cup are fantastic. Every corner, every street is about the World Cup.”

Though Ian actually noted the relative lack of enthusiasm for the World Cup among his young students and other locals, he is undoubtedly enjoying his stay. “Everything is pretty relaxed, and the city itself has some really scenic parts –  Katara Beach, the Pearl, plus Lusail just outside. The metro is brand new, really good. I think it’s safe as long as you’re sensible and don’t make a scene. It probably helps that most fans here are rich and middle-aged.”

Both fans pretty much concur about the outcome, however. Zico speaks for many when he says, “My hope is for Argentina. Messi deserves to lift the trophy. But I really think it is between France and Brazil”. “Probably Brazil or France,” agrees Ian, while preparing himself for another England fixture, the final group game against Wales.

To find out more about the World Cup in Qatar, check out Libero’s downloadable guide to the tournament.