Home sport Qatar struggles with overcrowding in the fan zone the day before the World Cup kicks off

Qatar struggles with overcrowding in the fan zone the day before the World Cup kicks off

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On Saturday evening, the authorities removed thousands of fans from a concert celebrating the World Cup that begins the next day in Qatar, revealing the challenges that await Doha as it tries to manage the crowds in the narrowest tournament in the world .. FIFA so far.

Disappointed fans are largely turned away. Outside their venues, Qatari police, security guards and others directed thousands of people with giant foam fingers, megaphones and flashing traffic controllers.

But the big celebration takes place before the 1.2 million fans expected to attend the football tournament arrive in this tiny country on the Arabian Peninsula.

And with only Qatar’s decision on Friday to ban beer sales at tournament stadiums, fan-only areas such as the Corniche Al Bahr hosting the concert will be the only FIFA-related area serving pints – meaning more fans can relate to.

“We know what the police say here applies,” said a 30-year-old truck driver from Mumbai who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. He and his friends had been given a rare day off from Hamad Port to walk the six kilometers to the fan zone before being turned away.

Police ride on horseback as other security officials try to control a crowd in the FIFA Fan Zone on Saturday. (Serjan Nedeljkovic/The Associated Press)

“We’re sad to leave because it’s so early,” he said. “There is nothing we can do.”

Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which oversees the World Cup, did not immediately respond to questions about the removal of the fan zone on Saturday night.

Qatar, with a population of three million, will see its population increase at the start of the tournament. He has spent more than $200 billion on improvements in this energy-rich country that is only slightly larger than Jamaica.

This includes a huge new underground metro system that can transport fans from the airport to matches. He even closed schools for the month and urged residents to work from home.

A large crowd gathered at the FIFA Fan Zone at Al Bidda Park in Doha on Saturday. (Molly Darlington/Reuters)

But Associated Press reporters noted weaknesses in that large numbers of people can be packed in before the tournament even begins.

At Doha’s Souq Waqif, a major tourist destination, the walkway between outdoor restaurants filled up quickly on Friday evening. The nearby metro station saw long lines, with some people pushing and pushing between orders and those getting on the train.

But Saturday night started more gently; Friday is the compulsory day off for all workers in the country. Few people strolled down the Corniche when suddenly a gigantic fireworks display set off, illuminating Doha’s glittering skyline to terrified passers-by.

Fans watch a drone and fireworks display in the sky over Doha on Saturday. (John Gambrell/The Associated Press)

However, after eight o’clock in the evening, the crowd gathered in the fan area, hoping to attend a concert by the Lebanese singer Myriam Fares and the Colombian singer Maluma. While hundreds of people crowded into a barn, thousands more waited outside.

At one of the exits, the crowd tried to storm the venue and a few onlookers ran past the guards. At the entrance, a security guard with a trumpet called out to the crowd: “For your own safety, please come back!” »

Still, some stayed and waited, hoping for a chance to enter, like Ayman Awad, a geologist who flew to Qatar on Saturday from Sudan.

Fans are seen during a concert at Al Bidda Park on Saturday. (Molly Darlington/Reuters)

Awad said: I will not give up. “I hope it won’t stay crowded.”

Many foreign fans, aware of Qatar’s restrictions on freedom of expression, have been reluctant to criticize the host nation in the meantime. A group of Saudi tourists who expressed their disappointment with the situation to an Associated Press reporter later retracted their quotes for fear of getting “into politics”.

The Al Bidda Park fan zone is planning to hold other big concerts during the tournament. But it has gained new fame after Friday’s decision to ban the sale of alcohol in stadiums: it will be one of the few places outside hotel bars and private residences where fans can enjoy a drink while partying in the conservative Islamic country.

photos | Football fans sipping beer in the fan area:

A series of quick calls to several bars in Doha’s West Bay, an area full of high-end hotels, revealed on Saturday evening that they were full the day before the tournament due to the closure of the fan zone.

However, the real test will begin on Sunday, when Ecuador face Qatar in the opening match with the group stage closely behind them – with the crowds arriving.

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