The World Cup begins Sunday in Qatar with a high-stakes event for the nation, which has faced a barrage of criticism and has risked its reputation to deliver a smooth tournament, the first in the Middle East and the priciest in the Story. As a sign of Arab solidarity, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the Presidents of Egypt and Algeria will be among the political leaders at 17:40 (1440 GMT) before the first of the opening ceremony, presided over by Qatar’s Emir in a tent-shaped stadium, between the match hosts Qatar and Ecuador. The UN Secretary General will also be present.
The tournament marks a culmination of Qatar’s soft-power push on the global stage and a show of strength following the end of a three-and-a-half-year boycott by Saudi Arabia and three Arab allies, including Egypt, that ended in 2021. The event will also see the first direct flights from Israel to Qatar. On stage, South Korean singer Jungkook of K-pop boy band BTS will perform a new official tournament song called Dreamers along with Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi.
Qatar – which has denied allegations of worker abuse and discrimination – and FIFA hope the spotlight will shift to on-pitch action after mounting criticism of foreign workers’ rights, LGBT rights and social restrictions. The organizers have also denied allegations of bribery for hosting rights. Addressing European critics of the host country at length at a press conference on Saturday, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said engagement was the only way to improve human rights, while Doha also cited recent labor reforms.
Denmark and Germany’s team captains will wear One Love armbands, their teams said, as they prepare to compete in a conservative Muslim state where same-sex relationships are illegal. Alcohol was banned in stadiums. Organizers say everyone is welcome while warning against public displays of love.
FANS Crowds of fans are already in Doha but the biggest rush is expected later this week, with daily flights bringing in fans from neighboring cities. Upon arrival, Argentina fan Julio Cesar said he expected a great atmosphere. “Even if there’s no beer, we’ll drink before the game.”
While some visitors enjoyed their first sips at the start of the FIFA Fan Festival in central Doha on Saturday, hundreds of workers, all men, gathered in a sports arena in an industrial area on the outskirts of the city where alcohol was not served. You’ll be able to watch matches there, at a price that stands apart from the stadiums that many have painstakingly built along with other infrastructure for the event. “Of course I didn’t buy a ticket. They are expensive and I should use that money for other things – like sending it home to my family,” said Ghanaian Kasim, a security official who has been working in Qatar for four years, told Reuters.
Neville, a 24-year-old Kenyan, and his compatriot Willy, also 24 and a Manchester City fan, were hired as security guards for the event. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Neville said. Wealthy gas producer Qatar is the smallest nation hosting the biggest global football event, which is being organized at a cost of US$220 billion. Crowd control will be crucial as around 1.2 million visitors are expected – more than a third of Qatar’s population.
Workers put finishing touches to outdoor gardens and sidewalks and carted building materials near the National Museum on Saturday. But at the Lagoona Mall, where World Cup songs were played on a loop, life went on as usual, with people queuing at the bank, drinking coffee at cafes and buying groceries.
“I came now because I don’t know how bad the traffic will be later this week,” said Esraa, an Egyptian who stocks up at grocery retailer Carrefour.
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