World Cup: As kick-off approaches, not everyone is in the mood to party , Latest Football News - The New Paper

World Cup: As kick-off approaches, not everyone is in the mood to party

DOHA – Shortly after touching down at the Hamad International Airport on Saturday, I learnt that Fifa president Gianni Infantino had delivered quite an incredible monologue at a news conference here.

He slammed the West for its “hypocrisy” in reporting about the host’s human rights record.

A day earlier, half the football world was up in arms about the late decision to ban alcohol sales at the eight tournament stadiums.

It was not even two weeks ago that Infantino had written to the 32 nations competing in Qatar, pleading to “let football take the stage” once the tournament kicks off.

That has become increasingly hard to do.

The beer ban was one of the first topics Tarun, the Bangladeshi Uber driver who picked me up from the airport, brought up on the way to the media centre.

After excitedly asking me which team I fancied to lift the World Cup – his pick was Argentina – his next question was: “You know the news about beer?”

Tarun has been a driver in Qatar for eight years and said he disagreed with the late decision. He felt Qatar has been caught in two minds: Wanting to be seen by the world as a progressive nation “like Abu Dhabi or Singapore”, while also wishing to retain its strong conservative culture.

“That company (Budweiser) has invested a lot with Fifa... I won’t be surprised if there is a lawsuit of some kind,” he said with a frown.

The decision was the latest cultural flash point – others include Qatar's treatment of migrant workers and laws against homosexuality – in the lead-up to this year’s tournament, which is being held in the Arab world for the first time.

The beer ban hinders Fifa’s long-time sponsor Budweiser – which has been a World Cup partner since 1986 – and also suggests the global football body was struggling to juggle its interests with that of an influential or wealthy host nation.

Infantino, however, insisted on Saturday that it was a “joint decision” between Qatar and Fifa, adding: “There will be many fan zones where you can buy alcohol in Qatar and fans can simultaneously drink alcohol.

“I think, if for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive.”

The football world has been divided by that stance.

Football fans the world over have argued that downing a pint during a game is part of the sport’s culture.

One passenger on my flight was spotted, either in a timely coincidence or a deliberate protest, wearing a Budweiser cap.

Others have suggested that if you need alcohol to watch football, then you are not really watching football.

The choice has been taken away altogether now. So, is everyone in Qatar really ready to focus on the football?

In terms of infrastructure, the country is most definitely prepared. The World Cup stadiums are architectural masterpieces, and have been ready for months.

Images of England’s Harry Kane and Netherlands’ Virgil Van Dijk adorn buildings in Doha. PHOTO: REUTERS


World Cup flags, posters, bunting and creative decorations like large concrete balls, painted in the colours of the participating nations, can be seen lining the roads and on lamp posts.

Gigantic images of the stars of world football – England’s Harry Kane, South Korea’s Son Heung-min and Canada’s Alphonso Davies, among them – are plastered on skyscrapers overlooking the West Bay.

The picturesque Corniche, which faces Doha’s skyline on the opposite side of the bay, is where most fans have gathered.

At nearby Al Bidda Park, a fan festival is under way to drum up enthusiasm as the city prepares to host the 32 teams and up to 1.5 million supporters for the next month.

The weather – the thermostat reads 28 deg C and it is dry – is near perfect, at least for those who, like me, are accustomed to a tropical climate.

It might be a tad warm for others, though – England reportedly trained with misting fans. But once the action on the pitch heats up, the air-conditioning kicks in. 

On Sunday, the hosts will start the ball rolling when they take on Ecuador.

On my way to the media centre, I spotted an Ecuadorean jersey.

The mustachioed middle-aged man who wore it requested to be known only as Jose. He believes sport will take centre stage once the tournament kicks off.

“Football makes people forget, you know?” he said, with a smile.

Even if it is only for a couple of hours on Sunday and just a temporary distraction, the big kick-off cannot come sooner.

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