EXCITEMENT is building for the ‘greatest show on earth’ as fans have started flocking to Doha ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The first match kicks off on Sunday evening, with hosts Qatar facing off against Ecuador at 5pm Spanish time.
Many have been perplexed by how a World Cup might unfold in the conservative Gulf state, which rejects Western traditional norms of boozing and canoodling. Much less if you’re gay!
To get round these issues, Qatari officials announced that they would relax their strict restrictions on alcohol, dress code, homosexual behaviour – and even unmarried heterosexual couples mingling – for the duration of the tournament.
But it was completely unsure they would adhere to it.
The Olive Press decided to send an undercover reporter to Qatar to run a rule over the tournament as it unfolds.
He arrived in Doha on Thursday and reports that so far, the beer has been plentiful, girls and women walk freely and uncovered in the streets, and that it has been much like any World Cup held in the past.
Due to the distance and exorbitant expense involved in attending a World Cup, travelling European fans are expected to be fewer than previous ones, with about 3,000 England fans anticipated.
Their first port of call on match days is usually to the bar, and the good news is that, while Qatar does not have any pubs, there are plenty of hotels, restaurants and other establishments where they can get a pint.
The bad news? Be prepared to hand over €14 for a pint (of Heineken), or €8 for a bottle.
The silver lining to these eyewatering prices is the existence of happy hours in the afternoons, where the beer might be up to 50% cheaper. And its not that far off in Scandinavia in any case.
So football fans accustomed to getting a bit boozy during a tournament might have to cram most of their drinking into the afternoon hours – which is something that tournament fans usually do anyway.
But hopes that this World Cup will be just like any other were shaken by the recent U-turn – just two days before the start of the tournament – on the sale of alcohol in the eight World Cup stadiums.
It is reported that Fifa made the decision under pressure from Qatari authorities, prompting fears that they may go back on other agreements to relax restrictions.
And while Westerners may yearn to be able to enjoy their usual pleasures, huge numbers of fans are expected to come from the Middle East and North Africa, where societal values are different.
It will be a challenge to accommodate the wishes and customs of all the varying cultures that will attend the festival of football, so we will have to watch this space.
“We’re remaining optimistic and, so far, it’s been fine,” says our man, who is staying anonymous for now, in order to report freely.
“The stadium bar ban was obviously annoying but most of the supporters will work out ways to get round it,” he added.
“I’ve certainly not yet seen any trouble and the locals we’ve met have been lovely.”