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What the 2022 World Cup in Qatar was actually like

Qatar
The Souq Waqif was the center of a lot of fan celebrations during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. (Photo by Emin Sansar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

What the 2022 World Cup in Qatar was actually like

There was a lot of talk leading up to the 2022 World Cup, surrounding all the issues that were ongoing in Qatar and how this tournament was going to be terrible for spectators. That was not the case from what I saw in my two weeks in Qatar. 

Alcohol

The first question people asked me when I returned home was, how was it with no beer? I just laughed because there was enough beer for everyone to drink until their bellies were full.

For starters, it was reported that there would be no alcohol available in Qatar, but most hotels served alcohol, while the fan zones sold beer in abundance. I stayed at one of the cruise ship hotels that an ESPN story called a booze cruise. That was very true. Fans staying there could drink almost all day and indeed would. This alone was the complete opposite of what many expected to be able to do.

Beer is a big part of any World Cup, and not having beer for sale in and around the stadiums may have been a blessing in disguise. Football is known for having passionate and sometimes violent fans, but with no alcohol the fans were all on great form singing, cheering, and having a great time celebrating the sport that so many love. 

Inside the stadium, there was beer for sale, but it was non-alcoholic Budweiser Zero. Plenty of people bought it and there seemed to be minimal complaints. If anything, I heard more people somewhat enjoying the fact that there was no alcohol at the stadiums.

Fans 

Now let’s get into the fans and the incredible atmosphere that was created. With over a million fans making the trip to Qatar, it was not a surprise to see people of all backgrounds enjoying time with each other. I saw matches that involved teams from all six footballing continents and each fan base brought something unique to the table. 

There was the drowning sound from the Tunisia and Morocco supporters that would put any fanbase in America to shame. There was the nonstop singing and dancing from the Brazilians that was part of a never-ending party. You could sense when Brazil showed up because all you could hear were the drums and samba music. 

It did not matter where fans were based, they made the trip. Argentina, while being 8,580 miles away, still brought thousands of fans to support Lionel Messi and company at the World Cup. The Australians did not travel as much, but the yellow shirts stood out a mile away. Every match I went to, sombreros and Mexican flags were everywhere. This made for an amazing atmosphere between Mexico and Saudi Arabia, which also had tons of fans make the short trip to their neighboring country. 

There were questions on how members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community would be treated by the strict rules in Qatar. While on the pitch there was not much support allowed with FIFA banning the “One Love” armbands that some teams planned on wearing, the crowd had a number of shirts donning the pride flag. From what I saw those fans were treated the same and had no issues in supporting one’s beliefs.

However, as good as it was inside the stadiums, the atmosphere on the streets of Doha was just as good. At the Souq Waqif, a marketplace in Doha, fans took over and there were massive parties held by Moroccan and Argentinian supporters. It seemed that no one was concerned about the issues that were previously reported and all 32 fan bases were extremely friendly. 

The cruise ship hotel was an experience in itself.

There were fans from everywhere who got together to watch every match on the big screen that was being used. They did so while having a memorable time. There were families, groups of friends, old, young, men, women, and everything in between just there to have a good time.

The most memorable moment was following Japan’s stunning 2-1 victory over Germany. Two Japanese fans walked across the deck in front of nearly a hundred people watching the later match and were welcomed by a standing ovation from everyone, and they milked it in with pure joy on their faces. 

Stadiums and Accessibility 

There was also the concern over how easy it would be to get around from stadium to stadium at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Qatar has a population of under three million people, so with a million more arriving this could have been an issue.

Overall, I was extremely impressed with how easy it actually was. At all the metro stations there were dozens of workers there to guide you to where you needed to go, and they all did so with a smile on their faces. It made getting to any of the eight stadiums an absolute breeze. 

Some of the stadiums required a shuttle ride from the metro station, but once again that was well-guided and extremely easy. Between shuttle drivers and metro workers, there was virtually no one that was unfriendly and unhelpful. There seemed to be plenty of jobs created for the locals in Qatar even if it was just moving a traffic cone to allow the buses to pass through.

The stadiums had their fair share of controversy but were immaculate on the outside. Stadium 974 was built of all shipping containers, while others such as the Lusail Stadium and Education City Stadium were futuristic in design. Inside they were nothing special, they were all pretty basic stadiums with fancy seating designs. The exception was the Al Bayt Stadium which had a cool lobby area. 

Inside the stadiums, there were also prayer rooms — depending on the estimate, nearly two-thirds of Qatar’s population is Muslim. However, there could have been better signage for them. This is because I saw multiple people head toward them thinking they were a restroom, which they absolutely are not. 

The biggest knock I have on the stadiums is that the use of air conditioners was a little over the top at times. During some of the night matches, a hoodie or jacket was required to stop fans from shivering. The conditions inside were to be expected considering the 2022 World Cup was the first to be held in the wintertime due to the extreme heat that Qatar faces in the summer months. 

The only other thing that took some time for organizers to figure out relates to the security and other workers in the stadiums.

It was a little hectic starting out with there being a massive ticketing issue on the first full day of action causing thousands to be late to games. Once in the stadium, people were having a hard time finding their seats and there was no help from the ushers, who appeared confused at times. It was clear that they had not been properly trained to do the job at hand, but they kind of figured it out as the tournament progressed.

Local 

The majority of my time was spent at or watching football, but there were a few times that I explored Doha and it was worth it. With the 2022 World Cup going on, the city was lit up and colorful with signs of the tournament.

The Souq Waqif, as mentioned above, was a party of visiting fans and locals. All of the small stores were selling anything related to the World Cup that they could. This included traditional abayas and keffiyehs specialized for each competing nation. The Souq also had other activities such as camel riding and hawk meetings.

Besides the Souq, Qatar turned its waterside area, called the Doha Corniche, into a great place for visitors to take in the Doha skyline while trying local food. There were plenty of food trucks serving everything from Turkish ice cream to burgers to traditional Qatari food such as falafels. 

At the matches, there were plenty of traveling fans, but a large majority of people in attendance were locals. The people of Qatar helped make the atmosphere great by wearing jerseys of teams or players they support. There were a lot of Messi, Brazil and Premier League jerseys being worn by locals at the stadiums. 

The local workers also made the whole experience better. The phrase “Metro, this way” became the unofficial catchphrase of the Qatar World Cup. The local workers made the most of helping people by singing and dancing while guiding visitors to where they needed to be.

Overall, the entire experience was incredible, and completely different than what I thought it would be like and what the media had portrayed leading up. Even better is that there is still over a week left in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

***

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