ETwo World Cup worlds open up along the access road to the “Free Zone” fan village. The one on the right corresponds exactly to the image that the Qatari hosts want to convey: a colorful settlement of thousands of residential containers lined up dead straight with burger stalls and large screens, where visitors from all over the world are supposed to spend a nice, alcohol-free time. On the left, on the other hand, the picture is as the critics imagine it: a construction site where workers from South Asia are still toiling in the shimmering heat. A few of them sit in the shade behind one of the kiosks and share a plastic plate of fries for breakfast. “They won’t be ready for a week or so,” says the Nepalese foreman. The Qatari director responsible for accommodating the fans admits a little later, somewhat smugly, that the preparations have become a race against time.
The World Cup backdrop is largely in place. The stadiums are ready. The Corniche, the semi-circular coastal road in the heart of the Qatari capital, is closed and has been converted into an entertainment mile. High-rise portraits of soccer players hang from the facades, national flags of the participating countries flicker on equally gigantic video boards. Multi-lane roads have been laid out, and a subway is to carry the brunt of fan transport.
“A dream come true”
Even if everything had been completed on time, there would still be doubts as to whether Qatar could be a worthy World Cup host. There has never been a football World Cup with such a contrast between the anticipation of the hosts and the frustration abroad. Qatar is an emotive word for football romantics. The scandal-ridden award by the top of the world association FIFA, which was riddled with corruption, twelve years ago, is a lasting memory. The fact that the tournament was postponed to late autumn upset many who had been looking forward to summer mass events. The extremely rich host is a monarchy that is governed as strictly as it is opaque, with a deeply conservative society. The exploitation of foreign migrant workers who were maltreated on the World Cup construction sites has outraged fans and politicians alike. Human rights organizations have criticized the repressive laws against homosexuals, which are only suspended for fans during the World Cup.
Recently, the leadership reacted thin-skinned. A good two weeks ago, the Qatari Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani spoke of a “campaign”, of “inventions” and “double standards”. Many Qataris are annoyed by the bad press. But they seem determined not to let the fun spoil them.
For Abdelkarim Hassan, left-back of the Qatar national team, the tournament is the most important event of his life. A monument to what his homeland has achieved. “A dream coming true,” he says. The hard-working employee of the press office, who is present at the meeting, does not like the question of the sharp criticism from abroad. He interrupts the conversation. “You don’t have to respond to that if you’re not comfortable with it,” he says.