Doha, Qatar (CNN) — Accommodation is in tents or prefabricated houses, there is no beer in the stadiums, the temperatures are uncomfortable and the entire event is embroiled in controversy over alleged human rights violations.
While this is not enough to deter hardcore soccer fans from traveling to Qatar to support their national teams in the World Cup, more surprisingly, it has also not been enough to deter those whose national teams are not even participating in the World Cup. the competition.
If you walk through the narrow streets of downtown Doha, it is impossible not to get carried away by World Cup fever. There are fans from all corners of the planet who come together in squares and restaurants to celebrate their cultures with each other.
Evenings are especially busy, with bands gathering by country, singing their hearts out to the seemingly constant beat of drums pounding through downtown Doha.
One of the loudest groups in the days leading up to kick-off was one of England fans from India.
The group is fully coordinated and wears the same shirt with England captain Harry Kane’s name on the back. They proudly sing songs related to the England team, but mix them with traditional chants from their country.
“Football is our life”
The fans went viral last week, with people accusing them of being “fake fans”, used to create the impression that people were enjoying a World Cup that, thanks to the controversy surrounding its Middle Eastern hosts, , could lack the usual brightness of the tournament that is held every four years.
Qatar 2022 organizers, as well as FIFA, have denied the claims, and a member of the group told CNN that he was surprised to see the headlines.
“We are a fan group from Kerala, in South India,” he said, though he was too busy singing and dancing to give his full name.
“India is not in the tournament and we have always liked England. We used to watch David Beckham play so we are passionate about England in Qatar.”
These fans are representative of a broader theme of Qatar 2022, which has allowed many to see the World Cup action first-hand.
Ali Abbadi is from Jordan and currently lives in Dubai. He spoke to CNN while exploring Souq Waqif, a market that has become a hub of activity for fans.
“I am here because it is a good opportunity and it is very close to our country,” he commented. “In 2018, the World Cup (in Russia) was too far from our country, but now we feel that the World Cup is at home.”
“In the Middle East we always watch football. Football is our life.”
The 35-year-old proudly sported an Argentina jersey and he’s certainly not the only one.
The colors blue and white are by far the most popular in Doha this week and almost all the shirts have Messi’s name on the back.
This not only shows the drawing power of the superstar player, but also the impact his current club PSG has had on the world.
The French team is owned by the Qatar Sports Investment group and posters of its star players, Neymar and Messi, are plastered all over Doha.
But unlike many who have adopted the South American team for this year’s tournament, it’s not Ali’s reason for rooting for them.
“I supported Argentina even before Messi. Messi is doing a great job, but I have supported Argentina for more than 15 years,” he said.
“I’ve seen players like (Gabriel) Batistuta, (Hernán) Crespo, so I hope they win in Qatar.”
It seems that you don’t even have to be a team fan to enjoy the World Cup.
Fei Peng is from China and traveled to Qatar to watch the tournament with his friends. CNN caught up with him as she settled into his new accommodation in one of the somewhat dystopian fan villas on the outskirts of the city.
“It is perfect”
The fight over accommodation is likely to intensify as Qatar will host some 1.5 million fans during the month-long tournament, which began on November 20.
“It’s a good opportunity to come to a host country that is smaller than my city (Beijing),” said Peng, who told CNN he had tickets for 35 matches in the tournament.
“We can have the opportunity to attend so many games, it’s perfect.”
Asked who he would root for at the World Cup, Peng said he had “no real preferences” but wanted South Korea and Japan to do well.
“Because I am Asian, I want the Asian teams to do well, but I only hope to see good results,” he said.
“Also, I hope that China can qualify for the next World Cup in the United States, that would be very special.”
A few doors down from where CNN met Peng, Jimmy and Kennis Leung were making themselves comfortable in their home for the next 16 days.
The couple traveled to Qatar from Hong Kong but, unlike Peng, he has a favorite team to root for.
Jimmy was dressed in the distinctive orange colors of the Netherlands and says he is excited to watch his adopted team play, despite having no obvious link to the Dutch national team.
“They have great players and a great history, and I like the team,” he beamed. “I want to see all their group stage matches.”
Amid all the criticism of Qatar 2022, the tournament has certainly provided an opportunity for people to experience one of the biggest sporting events in the world for the first time.
The organizers hope these stories go some way to justifying the decision to let the tiny nation of Qatar host a World Cup like no other.