Qatar hoping to show its soccer passion as World Cup host

Nov 10, 2022, 3:21 PM | Updated: Nov 11, 2022, 3:17 pm
Osvaldo Santander stands with his soccer collection in his home during an interview with The Associ...

Osvaldo Santander stands with his soccer collection in his home during an interview with The Associated Press, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022. Santander and his son Julian will travel to their third World Cup by means of their savings, selling banners and a TV game show win this year. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Qatar made a promise to fans 12 years ago when it started campaigning to host the World Cup: We love soccer just like you, so come and enjoy it with us.

The message acknowledged there would be skeptics that a tiny emirate whose team had never been to a World Cup — never played a qualifying game until 1977 — could match the passion for soccer’s biggest event shown by the previous host at that time, Germany in 2006.

Some skepticism is still there on the eve of the tournament.

Doubts about LGBTQ fans being safe in a country where same-sex relations are criminalized and in the bemused reaction provoked by Qatar’s plan to pay expenses for about 1,500 fans to visit and be social media influencers.

The invited fans will go to the opening ceremony dressed in each team’s colors and sing approved chants before Qatar plays Ecuador in the first game on Nov. 20, then stay for at least two weeks posting positive social media content while reporting trolls to tournament organizers.

Does Qatar “get” soccer culture enough to stage the biggest event in the world’s favorite sport?

Absolutely, one local fanatic in Doha told The Associated Press.

“This whole country is going to turn into a festival — we are all aware of that,” Hamad Al Amari, who watches Premier League matches with a Liverpool fan group, said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

A nation that’s like a city-state — with about 350,000 citizens in a population of less than 3 million — will have its limits tested to cope with the 1.2 million visitors expected during the 29-day tournament.

Some will find themselves watching games in shopping centers, at alcohol-free joints like Lemon Café in the Tawar Mall favored by Al Amari’s group of Liverpool fans.

“People who want to have a pint (of beer) go to hotels. There are sports bars that understand it,” he said, singling out Champions at a five-star Marriott hotel in West Bay.

There, a bottle of beer can go for 56 riyals (about $15).

Budweiser, the World Cup beer sponsor, will be served through the evening at the official FIFA Fan Festival site, a 40,000-capacity area in downtown Al Bidda Park. It’s also where Al Amari, a stand-up comedian, will work as an entertainment host.

The park and the extensive waterfront Corniche area, now closed to traffic, will be hubs for many fans.

Finding a secret spot off the beaten track to watch games will be tough, Al Amari said, and restaurants and shisha bars in the tight lanes of Souq Waqif market will be in heavy demand.

“That’s the hardest (place) to get a seat,” he said. “They are more for the resident patrons who are always there and everyone knows where to sit.”

Not all the demand will come from European fans, at least until the knockout rounds when fervor at home typically kicks in.

The Belgian soccer federation has reported selling hundreds, not thousands, of tickets from the 8% quota of stadium capacity each team gets.

In Switzerland, one of the wealthiest European nations, about half of its quota — 1,500 tickets — have sold for games against Cameroon and Serbia. More but not all were bought for the glamor game against Brazil.

The Swiss soccer body cited as deterrents the cost of traveling to Doha, the limited choice of hotels, and debate about Qatar’s human rights record.

In England, the official group for LGBTQ fans, Three Lions Pride, will not come to this World Cup.

“We understand from our counterparts, the Qatari nationals and migrant group counterparts, that our visibility, our presence would render them vulnerable to systematic institutional and potentially vigilante abuse,” group founder Di Cunningham said this week. “So, no, we’re not going.”

The lure and a World Cup adventure still drives many fans to invest the time and money.

In Argentina — home of soccer icon Lionel Messi — fans face two obstacles to be in Qatar: distance and getting some American dollars.

A tourist package costs about $10,000 for flights, lodging and tickets for three group games. It’s a lot for most Argentines with inflation running at 7% and restrictions on access to dollars forcing up the price of black-market purchases.

Despite this, Osvaldo Santander and his son Julian will travel to their third World Cup by means of their savings, selling banners and a TV game show win this year.

Osvaldo Santander won 1 million pesos (about $6,500) with the best guess of how long the movie Shrek lasts.

“I said 126 (minutes) and it was 93. I won by virtue of being the closest,” he said at his home in Banfield, a suburb south of Buenos Aires.

Santander also sells team banners to help fund renting an apartment with other friends to stay in Doha for one month.

“We are very passionate, crazy fans,” Santander said. “We feel that we have a duty in displaying our banners, with our name, our city, our big idols, Leo (Messi) and Diego (Maradona).”

Santander and his son do not yet have tickets for Argentina games. They plan to sell the tickets they got for other teams’ games, including Brazil’s, to pay for seats to the games they want.

Their devotion is typical of World Cup fans, who can also be noisy and boisterous.

Will Qatari people relish such behavior in their socially conservative country?

“We know we are a minority in our own country,” said Al Amari, adding when asked if some citizens would take vacation until the World Cup ends. “There’s a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of people who are going to leave.”


Rey reported from Buenos Aires.


AP World Cup coverage: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


El volante inglés Jude Bellingham previo al partido contra Senegal por los octavos de final del Mu...
Associated Press

Which World Cup starlet can replace Messi and Ronaldo?

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are not ready to say goodbye to the World Cup just yet. But the clock is ticking on their careers and Qatar could be the last time we see them on soccer’s biggest stage. With that in mind, thoughts naturally turn to a new generation and […]
1 day ago
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, center, stands with his teammates during the World Cup round of 16 so...
Associated Press

Portugal stepping out of Ronaldo’s long shadow at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — To Bruno Fernandes, World Cup teammate Cristiano Ronaldo is the most famous athlete in sports. Joao Felix has described Ronaldo as “irreplaceable.” Gonçalo Ramos, Portugal’s new 21-year-old star, has never known his national team without Ronaldo involved in it. A future without the country’s greatest ever player could be a daunting […]
1 day ago
Spain's head coach Luis Enrique reacts to supporters at the end of the World Cup round of 16 soccer...
Associated Press

Luis Enrique out as Spain coach after World Cup elimination

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The Spanish soccer federation said Thursday that Luis Enrique will not continue as coach of the men’s national team following its elimination in the round of 16 of the World Cup. The announcement comes two days after Spain lost to Morocco 3-0 in a penalty shootout after a scoreless draw in […]
1 day ago
Spain's Ansu Fati, left, and Spain's Aymeric Laporte stand in dejection at the end of the World Cup...
Associated Press

Spain’s ‘tiki-taka’ under attack again after World Cup loss

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The Morocco players fell back on defense and patiently watched as Spain kept passing the ball around midfield during their round of 16 match at the World Cup. Side to side, from one Spanish player to another. Pass after pass, Spain tried to find an opening through the Moroccan defense, but […]
1 day ago
England's Raheem Sterling looks down the field during the World Cup group B soccer match between En...
Associated Press

England player Raheem Sterling to return to World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Raheem Sterling will rejoin England’s World Cup squad after a break-in at his home in the U.K. The Chelsea forward had left England’s camp in Qatar to be with his family, which meant he missed his country’s 3-0 win against Senegal in the round of 16 on Sunday. But he will […]
1 day ago
New York Rangers center Barclay Goodrow (21) and Vegas Golden Knights right wing Keegan Kolesar (55...
Associated Press

Rangers use 4-goal 3rd period to beat Golden Knights 5-1

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Mika Zibanejad had two goals and an assist, and the New York Rangers scored three times in 1:54 in the third period to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 5-1 on Wednesday night. New York’s Artemi Panarin reached 600 career points, picking up his milestone point when he found Zibanejad, whose one-timer […]
1 day ago
Qatar hoping to show its soccer passion as World Cup host