On outskirts of Doha, laborers watch World Cup they built

Nov 25, 2022, 4:49 PM | Updated: Nov 26, 2022, 6:52 am
Laborers cheer at a fan festival at the Asian Town cricket stadium in Doha, Qatar, Friday, Nov. 25,...

Laborers cheer at a fan festival at the Asian Town cricket stadium in Doha, Qatar, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. Far from the luxury hotels and sprawling new stadiums emblematic of Doha during the World Cup, scores of soccer-mad South Asian workers poured into a converted cricket stadium in the city's desert outskirts to enjoy the tournament they helped create. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

(AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

              Laborers watch a World Cup match at a fan festival at the Asian Town cricket stadium in Doha, Qatar, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. Far from the luxury hotels and sprawling new stadiums emblematic of Doha during the World Cup, scores of soccer-mad South Asian workers poured into a converted cricket stadium in the city's desert outskirts to enjoy the tournament they helped create. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
            
              Laborers cheer at a fan festival at the Asian Town cricket stadium in Doha, Qatar, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. Far from the luxury hotels and sprawling new stadiums emblematic of Doha during the World Cup, scores of soccer-mad South Asian workers poured into a converted cricket stadium in the city's desert outskirts to enjoy the tournament they helped create. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
            
              Laborers cheer at a fan festival at the Asian Town cricket stadium in Doha, Qatar, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. Far from the luxury hotels and sprawling new stadiums emblematic of Doha during the World Cup, scores of soccer-mad South Asian workers poured into a converted cricket stadium in the city's desert outskirts to enjoy the tournament they helped create. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
            
              Laborers watch a performance at a fan festival at the Asian Town cricket stadium in Doha, Qatar, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. Far from the luxury hotels and sprawling new stadiums emblematic of Doha during the World Cup, scores of soccer-mad South Asian workers poured into a converted cricket stadium in the city's desert outskirts to enjoy the tournament they helped create. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
            
              MC Lincia Rosario dances in front of laborers at a fan festival at the Asian Town cricket stadium in Doha, Qatar, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. Far from the luxury hotels and sprawling new stadiums emblematic of Doha during the World Cup, scores of soccer-mad South Asian workers poured into a converted cricket stadium in the city's desert outskirts to enjoy the tournament they helped create. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
            
              Laborers cheer at a fan festival at the Asian Town cricket stadium in Doha, Qatar, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. Far from the luxury hotels and sprawling new stadiums emblematic of Doha during the World Cup, scores of soccer-mad South Asian workers poured into a converted cricket stadium in the city's desert outskirts to enjoy the tournament they helped create. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Far from Doha’s luxury hotels and sprawling new World Cup stadiums, scores of South Asian workers poured into a cricket ground in the city’s sandy outskirts to enjoy the tournament they helped create.

Unlike the official FIFA fan zone near Doha’s pristine corniche, this one has no $14 beer or foreign tourists. There are few food options beyond deep-fried Indian snacks, scant soccer jerseys in the crowd and even fewer women.

Instead, the grassy pitch in Asian Town, a neighborhood of labor camps, is packed with migrant workers from some of the world’s poorest countries. They power Qatar, one of the world’s richest, and helped accomplish its multi-billion-dollar stadium-building effort.

Their treatment has been the controversial backstory of the 2022 World Cup, ever since Qatar won the bid to host the soccer championship. They can face low wages, inhospitable housing and long hours, often in the scorching heat.

But on Friday night as the Netherlands played Ecuador, the bleachers of the cricket stadium heaved with workers reveling on their one day off of the week.

The lucky ones scored a small number of World Cup match tickets that went on sale for just 40 riyals ($10) — a special cheaper ticket category for Qatar residents. But for those who can’t afford to go to gleaming stadiums, the giant screens in Asian Town have become a key glimpse into the tournament that has reshaped the tiny emirate.

“Who can afford to go? I keep 400 riyals ($109) a month in my pocket,” said Anmol Singh, an electrician, who sends the rest of his $600 salary to his parents and grandparents in Bihar, eastern India. “I work to give it all to them.”

Even if meager by Western standards, the salaries of migrant workers in Qatar and across the oil-rich sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf often exceed what they could make back home and serve as lifelines for their families in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Workers in the fan zone who spoke to an Associated Press journalist on Friday said they coveted their jobs in the country, which has strict laws on speech. The yearslong boycott of Qatar by four Arab nations also stoked nationalism among the migrant workforce that makes up some 85% of the country’s population.

Kaplana Pahadi, a 21-year-old cleaner from Nepal, strolled through the crowded cricket stadium with three co-workers she called “my family.”

Decked out in a maroon Qatar jersey, scarf and cap, she said she moved to the energy-rich emirate over four years ago to pay medical fees for her mother, who developed heart problems after her father’s death. “She’s always sick,” she said. “I want to help her.”

At half-time, the floodlit stadium became a riot of music and dance. A celebrity Indian emcee whipped up the crowds as Hindi pop blared.

Some men hoisted themselves up on the shoulders of their friends. Others jumped up and down with excitement. Most wore jeans and T-shirts, or cream shalwar kameez — a knee-length shirt with a pair of loose-fitting trousers common in South Asia.

Hundreds took out their phones to film the reverie, smiles spreading as women in LED-lit white dresses traipsed onstage.

It was a stark respite from the daily grind.

“These are people from companies doing hard work,” said Imtiaz Malik, a 28-year-old IT worker from Pakistan, gesturing to the crowds of men. “But any kind of work is good.”

He said he misses his family back in Lahore, Pakistan, and wishes he could hear their voices more often. Despite the difficulties, he said, Qatar has become his home, too.

“This country is becoming better,” he said.

The glaring spotlight of the World Cup has compelled Qatar to overhaul its labor system. The country scrapped the kafala system that tied workers’ visas to their jobs and set a minimum wage of 1,000 riyals ($275) a month, among other changes. Still, rights groups argue more needs to be done. Workers can face delayed wages and rack up debt paying exorbitant recruitment fees to land their jobs.

Imran Khan, 28, said many young men in his hometown of Kolkata, India, dream of working in Qatar. He left his parents and brothers behind to search for work in hospitality during the World Cup. But he has yet to find a job.

The competition is fierce and work harder to come by now that the tournament is underway, he said. In the meantime, he spends his days watching matches on the big screens at the cricket stadium next to the mall.

The fan zone allows Khan and legions of other migrant workers to enjoy the World Cup atmosphere just a short walk from their dormitories. It also means they’re not taking the bus into downtown Doha, which is now filled with foreign fans watching games and celebrating.

“I can’t explain the excitement,” Khan said. “It’s unreal.”

___

Follow Isabel DeBre on Twitter at www.twitter.com/isabeldebre.

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

AP

Tottenham's Harry Kane greets supporters after the English Premier League soccer match between Fulh...
Associated Press

Harry Kane has records in sight, but trophies elude him

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Harry Kane will become Tottenham’s all-time leading scorer with a goal against Manchester City on Sunday. The striker’s wait for a major trophy, however, will go on. Kane is set to surpass the late Jimmy Greaves’ club record of 266 goals, which has stood for 53 years. He is also tied […]
1 day ago
FILE- Gene Sykes claps after City Council voted 12-0 to endorse documents at the heart of its plan ...
Associated Press

USOPC: Russian pathway possible, but sanctions must remain

The new leader of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee reiterated the federation’s support for exploring a way for Russian athletes to compete at the Paris Olympics as neutrals, while insisting the current sanctions against the country remain in place. Gene Sykes, who took over for Susanne Lyons as USOPC chair on Jan. 1, wrote […]
1 day ago
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (26) celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL...
Associated Press

All-Star festivities showcase next generation of NHL stars

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — New Jersey Devils players watch from the bench often and marvel at some of the things Jack Hughes can do on the ice. “Every game, at least a couple times, I’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, that guy’s amazing,'” forward Michael McLeod said. “He just gets it done every night.” […]
1 day ago
Youth team players warm-up ahead of the Black star water polo competition held at the University of...
Associated Press

Ghana water polo grows as sport looks for more diversity

Back at the very beginning, right when the idea of water polo in Ghana started swimming into reality, Asante Prince got out a couple of balls and caps in front of a handful of curious kids. He decided to try a scrimmage, but he had no nets. So they put a soccer bench on each […]
1 day ago
FILE - Austria's Katharina Liensberger speeds down the course during the first run of an alpine ski...
Associated Press

Austrian ski team aims to rediscover its magic at worlds

VIENNA (AP) — Only one skier in the 24-member Austrian squad for the upcoming world championships has won on the Word Cup circuit this season. A star coach left the women’s team mid-January. And “crisis” has become a common word on the ski-mad nation’s sport pages. Has the once dominating “Wunderteam” from Austria lost its […]
1 day ago
FILE - Workers prepare to remove giant Olympic rings from the waterfront area at Odaiba Marine Park...
Associated Press

Tokyo Olympic bribery scandal rolls on; company apologizes

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese company embroiled in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic corruption scandal said Thursday it would strengthen oversight to prevent further wrongdoing. Kadokawa “seriously betrayed public trust,” company president Takeshi Natsuno said. He bowed deeply with two other executives to show remorse in a news conference. Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, the son of the founder, […]
1 day ago
On outskirts of Doha, laborers watch World Cup they built