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We take a closer look inside the most controversial World Cup in history

An aerial view of Khalifa Stadium stadium at sunrise in Doha, Qatar. Photo by: David Ramos/Getty Images)

An aerial view of Khalifa Stadium stadium at sunrise in Doha, Qatar. Photo by: David Ramos/Getty Images)

Jeremy Wilson

Drinking

Alcohol will be served at a lower price than hotels in special fan zones during the Qatar World Cup and organisers are also in advanced talks over allowing beer inside the eight stadiums.

With Budweiser one of Fifa’s sponsors and alcohol so intrinsic to the pre-match ritual in many countries, Qatar is preparing to relax its laws during the World Cup and allow alcohol beyond certain hotel restaurants and bars, where prices often exceed £10 (€11.65) a pint.

There is also an increasing probability of in-stadium sales.

Although more than a million fans are expected in Qatar during the 28-day tournament, the increase at any one time is expected to be around 100,000.

“For fans who want to have a beer before the game, there will be designated areas,” said Nasser Al Khater, chief executive of Qatar 2022. “There are fans who will expect that but, also due to the geographical location, we expect that there is a new market who culturally would like to enjoy the game in a different way. There is going to be something for every type of fan.”

SECURITY

Football fans have been warned of “severe” consequences if they flout Qatar’s zero-tolerance drugs laws but have also been assured they will be visiting one of the safest countries in the world.

More than one million fans are due in Qatar later this year, when the capital city of Doha will largely play host to supporters from 32 nations.

It is an unprecedented challenge and Qatar have long been working closely with security and police from around the world, including England, where there has been a spike in disorder over the past year, notably at the Euro 2020 final at Wembley, when cocaine helped fuel shameful scenes.

Al Khater said that his team studied the example of Wembley, as well as the Champions League final in Paris, where local gangs stormed various checkpoints.

He is confident of Qatar’s “very comprehensive” plans and said the prospect of any sort of black market in World Cup tickets is expected to be virtually eliminated by the Hayya Card app which will link a visa for entering Qatar to passports and individual tickets.

“You make sure unticketed fans don’t get anywhere close to the inner perimeter of the stadium,” he said.

“Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world. Crime rate is extremely low. By the first or second day the fans here are going to throw whatever fears they may have out the window.”

And his message on drugs? “It is not something that any major sporting event is going to tolerate. As long as fans are not violent there are no issues but, when it comes to drug use, there is zero tolerance.”

Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the UK’s national lead for football policing, spelt out what this means.

“Fans planning on travelling to the World Cup should be aware that there may be serious penalties in Qatar for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK,” he said.

“The penalties for the use of, trafficking, smuggling and possession of drugs (even residual amounts) are severe. Punishments can include lengthy custodial sentences, heavy fines and deportation. Similar approaches will also be taken in neighbouring countries.

“We will have officers in the UK and in Qatar gathering intelligence.”

Qatari officials stress, however, that they will seek a “light-touch” approach in security and stewarding, informed by in-country observations at the last two World Cups.

Human rights

On an outside wall of Lusail’s Iconic Stadium is a mosaic of more than 6,000 faces. They are the people who have transformed this patch of the Qatari desert into the world’s most futuristic sports stadium. But the questions that continue to hang over this World Cup are clear.

Were they unacceptably exploited? And can Qatari workers’ reforms that have been instigated now be consolidated and built upon to constitute the most important legacy of all?

Answers naturally depend on who you speak to. Amnesty has accused Fifa of “turning a blind eye” to human rights questions when it awarded Qatar the World Cup in 2010.

It says “thousands of migrant workers have been exploited and many have tragically died” and are calling on Fifa to set aside at least $440 million (€418m) for migrant workers from an expected $6bn (€5.7bn) in tournament revenue, arguing that it is the likely minimum necessary to cover compensation costs and initiatives to protect future workers’ rights.

Amnesty acknowledged “important labour reforms” in Qatar since 2017 but remains deeply concerned about their enforcement.

Tamim El Abed, a Qatari who has worked in construction all his life and is project manager at the Lusail Iconic Stadium, insists the World Cup has been genuinely transformative.

He said: “It has been an excellent vehicle for someone like me to put pressure on companies that we work with to upgrade their systems and services.”

Qatar 2022 has consistently disputed reports of migrant worker deaths, and says that it uses “an internationally recognised standard of how you define a work-related fatality”.

Homosexuality is still illegal in Qatar, but a Fifa spokesperson said “symbols supporting LGBT-related causes” such as rainbow flags, could be displayed inside and outside stadiums.

“All fans are welcome,” said Al Khater. “When we speak about the LGBT community, it is exactly (the message) as we give to the heterosexual community. Qatar is a modest country – respect the norms, respect the culture.”

Stadiums

In any normal World Cup year, the party would already be in full swing, but Qatar’s fierce summer heat forced the tournament to be moved to winter.

It was more than 40C last week and just the 600-metre walk from the metro station in Al Rayyan to the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium provoked a steady stream of sweat among the 10,000 Peruvians who had travelled some 14,600 km to see their team face Australia in the final play-off match.

However, the temperature inside the stadium was 21C and allowed the players to perform at full tilt over 120 minutes without so much as a drinks break.

“You’re not hot at all,” said Denis Genreau, the Australia midfielder. “I don’t know how they do it.”

Other stadiums include Al Bayt with its traditional tented design; Stadium 974 which is made from shipping containers; Al Janoub, inspired by the sails of traditional Dhow boats, Al Thumama in the style of a giant Middle Eastern hat and the the Khalifa Stadium – the only one of the eight venues that isn’t brand new.

It is hard not to wonder about the tournament’s legacy in a country roughly the size of Yorkshire, but each stadium has its own plan that will involve reducing capacity by half and being adapted into community facilities, hotels, and smaller sporting facilities. (© Telegraph Media Group Limited 2022)


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