DOHA, Qatar, November 13 – A week after kick-off, the World Cup trophy returned to Qatar on Sunday, teams and fans began arriving and security barriers were erected across Doha before one of the most controversial football tournaments of all time.
The trophy which will be presented to the winning team on December 18 has returned from a world tour in time for next Sunday’s opener when hosts Qatar take on Ecuador.
FIFA’s calls to “focus on football”, however, have struggled against an international spotlight on Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, women and the LGBTQ community. Qatar angrily repelled most of the attacks and local media on Sunday castigated the “arrogance” of some Western countries.
“That seems to have been all we’ve read for the past few weeks,” said Ringo Gonzalez, an Ecuadorian based in Germany, who was among the fans who gathered at the World Cup countdown on the waterfront. of Doha early on Sunday.
“It will be good to see the teams finally do something. I want Ecuador to succeed and see Lionel Messi and the other big names in action.
Team USA have already arrived in Doha and Australia were expected to join them on Sunday. Qatar expects over a million fans to be in the smallest country to host a World Cup, with many arriving in the capital.
Many star players were still involved for their European clubs on Sunday in the final games ahead of the season’s break for the World Cup.
Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have all been named in Paris Saint-Germain’s starting line-up against Auxerre in Ligue 1.
In the port of Doha, the giant newly built cruise ship MSC Europa was due to be officially named on Sunday before welcoming thousands of World Cup fans.
– No champagne to name the ships –
In a concession to Qatar’s Islamic culture that restricts alcohol and prohibits gambling, a bottle of rose water was to be crushed on the hull instead of traditional champagne for the inauguration and the ship’s casino was to be be closed while in port.
Three cruise ships will accommodate up to 10,000 fans and MSC said the Europa was sold out for the first two weeks of the 29-day tournament.
On land, barriers have been erected on main streets and around metro stations and stadiums as security forces prepare for the football invasion.
Organizers say 2.9 million of the 3.1 million tickets have been sold and dozens of hopeful fans waited outside the FIFA ticketing center in hopes of rare tickets becoming available for the best matches.
Matthew Coleman, an Australian living in Doha, and his Dutch friend Gijs Beenker left empty-handed as there were no “interesting” matches available.
At a nearby World Cup souvenir shop, staff said Europeans buying the official ball or the La’eeb mascot were the main customers.
Migrant workers from South Asia have purchased thousands of replica Brazilian and Argentine shirts and can be seen wearing them on the streets. Workers have been at the center of an often acrimonious dispute over deaths, injuries and their working conditions since Qatar won the World Cup in 2010.
European and Qatari media continued their war of words on Sunday over whether the energy-rich Gulf state should host the event.
A British newspaper said many fans believed Indians in Qatar had been “paid” to take part in rallies supporting Argentina and Brazil. Thousands of migrant workers flocked to the march on Friday.
In response, Qatari newspaper Al-Sharq said the anti-Qatar campaign “confirms the arrogance of some Western countries who believe that hosting the World Cup should remain their monopoly”.
Al Raya said that “the enthusiastic and festive atmosphere of the large crowds of football fans of different nationalities in Doha revealed the failure of the smear campaigns carried out by some Western media and politicians against the 2022 World Cup”.