© The Fan Experience Company 2022
World Cup 2022: Inside a World Cup fan park in Qatar - scorching heat & £12.50 pints
Whenever my friends and I go away for summer – we play a game. The first person to comment on the weather being too hot has to pay for breakfast the following day.
As a group, we’ve never been to Qatar – but had we come to this World Cup together, someone would have been out of pocket in the first few minutes off the plane.
The weather in Doha on Wednesday is a scorching 32C – the 11-minute walk from a tram station to our destination felt like hours.
The Al Bidda Fan Park in Doha is one of the main sites in the city where supporters can soak up the Qatar World Cup experience. After a quick bag scan and two more security lanyards to add to our official Fifa ID, we were admitted to the park.
Three things immediately stood out.
The first is the size of the area – think a medium-sized UK music festival.
The second is the heat (yes, I am mentioning it again) – the sun high in the sky, with its rays striking us on the way down, then for a second time on the way back up as they reflect off the concrete beneath our feet.
The third thing you notice is the lack of shaded areas – a few tents and some oversized umbrellas near the food stalls seems to be the only protection from the searing heat.
Alcohol is available here – a pint will set you back £12.50. For the same price, you could get a soft drink, burger and chips.
A quick tour of the venue leaves the impression there’s plenty to do as well as catching the action on the huge television screen which is at least four double-decker buses in length.
There’s also a zip-line, giant chess sets, table football, a three-a-side football pitch, mini-golf, and around a dozen or so interactive games where fans can test their shooting, passing or reflexes as a goalkeeper.
After the tour, we were ‘treated’ to a match between Australia’s Tim Cahill and Argentina’s Maxi Rodriguez.
The one-on-one exhibition game had been put on by one of the many sponsors of the tournament.
The park has a lot of branded areas. Every building, shop or interactive experience has a company logo on it. That’s hardly surprising – as this tournament is expected to cost the oil-rich state £160bn. The revenue made from the World Cup will make only a small dent in that… but every little helps.
Cahill works in Doha as the chief sports officer for an academy developing Qatari athletes. The former Millwall and Everton forward tells us the first World Cup in the Middle East can inspire generations to come.
“I think it’s incredible to have a World Cup in this region,” he says. “It brings a profiling element to show the culture and what the country has to offer. At the same time I have played here in the Asian Cup. I have played here many times.
“I think for fans to be able to watch two or three games in a day, it’ll be a compact World Cup, different, not as much travelling. These sort of experiences… it’s nice to be a part of it.”
Fifa and the Qatari government have made no secret they want the focus to be the action on the field. But Qatar’s human rights record, and in particular its laws around homosexuality – which is illegal in the country – have dominated news coverage around the world.
When asked about those fans who have refused to travel to the region over concerns for their safety, the 42-year-old former footballer says “sport brings the world together”.
“I have played in four World Cups and been lucky enough to play in Australia, China, India, the USA and the UK and we play in this region [Middle East] a lot,” Cahill says.
“Qatar has hosted 600 events since being awarded the tournament in 2010 and like anything you come, you see, you share your experience. Football brings the world together and I hope the fans who come here can enjoy it.”
With days to go until the show starts – a winter World Cup, in the blistering desert heat – promises to be like no other in the tournaments 92-year history.
‘Fake fans’ denial
Meanwhile, Qatar’s World Cup chief has denied claims people are being paid to act as “fake fans”.
England were greeted by a number of Indian expats when they arrived at their base on Tuesday and there have been reports that England and Wales fans have been paid to act as ambassadors for the tournament.
Nasser al-Khater told Kerala-based MediaOne TV: “We are facing criticism from some of these media, for whatever reason it may be – whether its discriminatory, I don’t know.
“But when it comes to residents of Qatar who have been living with us, have built the country with us, have contributed to society, contributed to the economy – and putting them in the light that they are fans for hire, we do not accept that.
“We strongly want to give a message to all fans in Qatar, that this is a World Cup for Qatar, including its citizens and its residents and a World Cup for the region as well.”
The Supreme Committee, which organises the tournament, also denied the reports, adding: “In different places around the world, fans have different traditions, different ways to celebrate, and while that may contrast with what people are used to in Europe or South America, it doesn’t mean the passion for football is any less authentic.”
Tournament organisers also said they had “mistakenly interrupted” a live TV broadcast by a Danish crew on Tuesday.
The broadcast in one of the country’s tourist destinations by Danish channel TV 2 Nyhederne was interrupted by Qatari security officials.
“Upon inspection of the crew’s valid tournament accreditation and filming permit, an apology was made to the broadcaster by on-site security before the crew resumed their activity,” a statement added.
“Tournament organisers have since spoken to the journalist and issued an advisory to all entities to respect the filming permits in place for the tournament.”