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World Cup 2022: Qatar hosting - what can England and Wales fans expect in Middle East?
Qatar is poised to host the first World Cup in the Middle East in the tournament’s 92-year-history and the first during the Northern Hemisphere winter.
Almost all of the three million tickets available have been sold with the country expecting 1.2 million visitors for the tournament, which takes place from 20 November to 18 December.
Qatar is the smallest host nation in World Cup history, with a population of around three million living in an area approximately half the size of Wales.
It will be a compact event with the eight stadiums separated by roughly an hour’s drive and 43 miles at most, with 110 metro trains and 4,000 buses to ferry fans around.
It will be a different World Cup in many ways, so what can supporters expect?
How many fans are going?
About 3,000 to 4,000 England fans are expected to travel to Qatar for the group stages, with numbers set to increase should Gareth Southgate’s side reach the knockout stages.
An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 supporters will fly out to follow Wales, who are playing in their first World Cup since 1958.
Ashley Brown, the Football Supporters’ Association head of supporter engagement, says the “big unknown” is the number of British expats, with “more than 20,000 British passport holders in Qatar and probably over 100,000 overall in the region”.
Brown says England fans are not travelling in the same numbers as previous tournaments because of the costs involved, while the timing of the World Cup – outside of the usual summer school holidays – will “impact the ability of families to attend”.
“For a lot of people Qatar doesn’t sound like an exciting place to go, it’s not a typical holiday destination, lack of alcohol availability, cost of getting there, cost when you’re there, it’s put a lot of people off,” added Brown. “The cost of living absolutely plays a part in that.”
Paul Corkrey, of the Football Supporters’ Association Cymru added: “We took 50,000 to the 2016 Euros in France so the response has been muted mainly because of the location and time of year it is being played.”
Tournament organiser Fifa has issued a top-10 list of ticket sales by country of buyers, with Qatar on top and England fourth.
It has not released a breakdown of figures by nation, or how many have been allocated to sponsors or local residents.
Where are fans staying and how much will it cost?
Apartments, hotel rooms, desert camping, villas, fan villages – and even cabins on moored cruise ships have been made available.
But some fans have complained of limited and expensive accommodation options.
Organisers are making 30,000 extra rooms available, which they say is the equivalent of one million nights and will help provide 130,000 rooms in all, including 9,000 beds in fans villages – big tents and metal cabins – 60,000 rooms in apartments and villas, 50,000 in hotels and 4,000 rooms in two cruise ships which will remain docked for the tournament.
However, it remains unclear whether that will be enough to meet demand.
The refabricated cabins at so-called fan villages built in the desert on the outskirts of Doha have attracted media attention and are being sold as a budget option. They are priced at $207 (£184) per night for two people.
Qatar’s official website says rooms on the MSC Poesia cruise ship cost from $179 (£160) per night, but for many dates, the price of a room with a double bed is from around $450 (£404) a night.
Brown said many fans had been “priced out”, with a trip covering England or Wales’ three group games, factoring in travel, accommodation and tickets, likely to cost fans £3,000 at a conservative estimate. Following either side into the latter stages of the tournament would “easily be £5,000”, added Brown.
The cheapest group stage tickets for non-Qatari residents were about £60, with prices for the final from £500.
A five-a-side event for supporters from the 32 competing nations will mirror the tournament. The Fans’ Cup will be contested over four days during the competition.
Travel advice for supporters
Fans have been told they must have a Hayya Card (a form of fan ID which will also secure free public transport) to enter Qatar and accommodation arranged before travelling out for those intending to stay.
Rules requiring visitors to give proof of a negative Covid-19 result and to register for the country’s Ehteraz contract-tracing app look set to be dropped for the World Cup, but fans are advised to check beforehand.
The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office has issued tips to supporters, which include the following warnings:
- There may be serious penalties for doing something that is not an offence in the UK. The availability of alcohol, and associated laws, will be different to previous tournaments.
- Steer clear of drugs. Qatar takes a zero tolerance approach and visitors can expect a severe penalty for the possession of even residual amounts. Punishment can include lengthy custodial sentences.
World Cup chief operating officer Colin Smith said: “All we ask, like any country, is people respect the cultural norms of Qatar.”
A stadium code of conduct is in place for spectators attending games that prohibits flags or banners exceeding two metres by 1.5 metres, and any material of a “political, offensive and/or discriminatory nature”.
UK police officers deployed in Qatar for the World Cup will act as “cultural interpreters” between fans and local law enforcement to try and prevent “unfortunate misunderstandings” where British football ‘fan culture’ may need to be “moderated” to respect local conservative values and traditions.
Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the national lead on football policing, said British police are not there to tell fans how to behave, but would act as a “buffer” between supporters and Qatari law enforcement, which includes 3,000 Turkish riot police.
Fans had also been encouraged by the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Alicia Kearns, to leave their personal phones at home and take ‘burner’ (disposable) phones instead to Qatar. This comes amid fears that apps you have to download in Qatar are being used to hack into people’s phones.
However, Chief Constable Roberts and the FSA’s Brown both played down that concern and suggested fans stick to the official government’s foreign commonwealth office advice.
What about dress code?
People from 90 different countries work and live in Qatar with locals dressed in traditional thobes and abayas, while organisers say you are just as likely to see someone in a sari as you are in a football shirt or hijab.
Tourists have been told they are free to embrace their clothing of comfort, as long as it is modest and respectful to the culture.
They are expected to wear conservative attire in some places such as government buildings, national museums and Doha’s renowned Souq Waqif marketplace. If someone is wearing shorts or beach attire at such places, it is likely they will be asked to cover up.
What about LGBT and human rights concerns?
Homosexual acts are illegal in Qatar and the UK’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was criticised for suggesting that LGBT football fans heading to the World Cup should show “a little bit of flex and compromise”.
Public displays of affection can be considered offensive, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or intent.
While Brown said he expected England and Wales fans to be “very safe” in Qatar in general due to very low levels of crime, he acknowledged that LGBT fans didn’t “feel safe” enough to travel.
“It’s very sad,” said Brown. “Three Lions Pride who represent that community as travelling England fans – I don’t think any are going.
“They don’t feel safe, they don’t feel comfortable and they don’t feel reassured and that is incredibly disappointing that Fifa can put a tournament in a country that won’t welcome those people.
“Qatar is keen for this to go well. It’s on the world stage, they want to be seen as a good country so I think things would be OK but it has to be their choice.”
Fifa chief Gianni Infantino has promised the best World Cup ever and said: “Everyone will be welcome to the tournament regardless of their origin, religion, background, gender, sexual orientation or nationality.”
There will be no restrictions on non-married friends or couples staying in the same room.
Fifa has said it will cancel the World Cup 2022 contracts of any hotel in Qatar that does not allow same-sex couples to stay.
Will fans be able to drink alcohol?
Ticket holders will be able to buy alcohol within the stadium perimeter before and after matches.
But while the match is in progress and at half-time, alcohol-free Budweiser Zero – provided by one of the tournament sponsors – will be the only beer on sale.
Alcohol is currently only available in Qatar to visitors at licenced hotel restaurants and bars, with additional availability expected at certain fan zone sites during the tournament.
It is thought that some Qatari hotels will not show World Cup matches as the broadcast subscriptions cost too much.
Pints of beer in Doha are normally priced between £12 and £15, although World Cup organisers are reportedly working on happy-hour deals which would potentially halve prices at certain times.
Al Bidda Park fan zone, which has a 40,000 capacity, will show games on a giant screen. It has an alcohol licence from 18:30 to 01:00 local time.
The Arcadia music festival will be open from 10:00 to 05:00, serve alcohol and feature a fire-breathing 50-tonne ‘Spider’ which has been used at Glastonbury, but tickets cost upwards of £75 a day.
Non-residents cannot buy alcohol in shops. The legal drinking age in Qatar is 21 and it is an offence to drink alcohol or be drunk in a public place.
“What will be missing is the usual vibrancy and interaction on the streets with many of the bars tucked away in hotels,” said Brown.
“Thirty two sets of fans all in one place watching games. No one knows what that’s going to be like, it’s never been done before. I’m sure they’ll be some fantastic pictures of fans enjoying themselves together but maybe there’s some challenges as well.”
World Cup chief Nasser Al Khater has indicated drunk fans will be sent to special zones to sober up.
What about day trips?
The accommodation situation means some supporters have opted to fly in and out for matches from elsewhere.
Qatar Airways has withdrawn flights from 18 destinations to make space at Hamad International Airport for airlines transporting fans, and expects about 500 shuttle flights a day.
Capacity at the Abu Samra road border crossing to/from Saudi Arabia has been doubled to 4,000 travellers per hour
Germany’s official fan group have reserved 300 places in a four-star hotel in Dubai, while Brown expects a “a reasonable number travelling in and out from places including Dubai”.