Large groups of Latin American, Tunisian and Asian supporters determine the atmosphere in Qatar in the first week of the World Cup. They make it a party, while the fans from Europe still have to find their feet.

    Jenne-Jan HoltlandNovember 25, 202205:00

    A guard with a simple task stands in front of a metro station in Doha. He must turn away anyone who wants to enter. The Al Bidda station is only an arrival and not a departure station. So the 46-year-old Oranjefan Sander (‘no surname, I have my own company’) grumbles off.

    He came to the World Cup with his father and son. ‘Now we have to detour to the next stop. I sometimes have the impression that the Qataris are a bit over the top.’ Further in town, 28-year-old Rogier Kok expresses the same feeling. ‘Because everything is so tightly arranged, you can’t go on a voyage of discovery.’

    The Qatari World Cup organization leaves nothing to chance, as became apparent during the first week of the controversial tournament. The street is teeming with guards, crush barriers and cameras. On behalf of the ‘Tournament Security Force’, agents guard the direction: their cars are everywhere and in the fan zones they patrol in groups of five, zigzagging through the crowd. The message to football fans, freely translated: have as much fun as you want, but there are limits.

    Birds of paradise

    Only: this is the world championship, a place where all boundaries are usually let go for a while. Where football fanatics can cheerfully fall into each other’s arms without ever having visited the other’s country. Where you loudly tease (or comfort) the other fans after a defeat.

    Where you bump into birds of paradise like Haziel Rivera (24) and his four Mexican cousins, parading in snow-white, local dishdashas. They have just bought the clothes, for all kinds of reasons that they have already forgotten, but of course also to tease their Argentinian friends about their ignominious loss to Saudi Arabia.

    It is the large groups of Latin American, Tunisian and Asian supporters – the vast majority, compared to the Europeans – who determine the atmosphere in Doha. They do so singing, jumping and dancing, while guards look on with a smile.

    The average Tunisian or Mexican doesn’t need alcohol to have fun – a nice bonus now that the host country has decided that the tap in the fan zones only opens at 7pm (and closes again at 1am).

    Prohibition

    Set against the somewhat wooden Europeans, it is a striking contrast. If there was a crash course in ‘having fun without alcohol’, most people would be allowed to sign up for it immediately, especially the embarrassed-looking Poles.

    A group of Australian fans talk about a visit to a licensed hotel bar. “It was really crazy,” says Daniel Smith, 25. ‘We could get beer, but then you had to take at least five glasses per person. In our country we would have done that immediately, but here we didn’t dare. You don’t want to misbehave in public.’

    Most Orange fans, on the other hand, have put themselves over their hesitation and say they find the partial reclamation ‘convivial’. ‘I like a beer, but I don’t miss it,’ says former rugby international Marcus van Engelsdorp Gastelaars (57), who takes a walk through the traditional souq with his wife.

    Further in the city, a group of friends from Limburg says that they have managed to create their own Ho-Chi-Minh route to beer, without disclosing the details. ‘It’s just a party,’ says Patrick Otten (52). ‘Yesterday, at half past two in the morning, we approached a Qatari agent because we felt like shawarma. We were allowed to board. He took us to a tent where we were allowed to cut the meat ourselves.’

    Otten and his friends say they have a fairly good idea of ​​where the boundaries lie. ‘You couldn’t piss in the bushes. We wanted to see how far we could go and were immediately picked out.’

    Rules are okay

    Jeroen Klinkers (48), dressed like Otten in an orange shirt with a text inspired by Rowwen Hèze, can confirm this. ‘I’ve been to just about every World Cup since the 1990s. As a supporter you can make less splashes here. But the experience is still beautiful through all cultures.’

    Quite a lot can be done in public – more than many fans had previously thought, more than you would think based on conservative law. For ‘singing immoral lyrics’ you can get six months in prison, for ‘incitement to debauchery’ even three years. It is a paper reality; the Qataris rarely enforce those laws.

    The same leniency applies to the dress code: on paper, women are supposed to dress ‘respectfully’ without bare shoulders or knees. Some female supporters therefore decided to pack only long trousers. But in practice everything seems possible, with exceptions.

    Jackie (‘no surname’) from Uganda, 25, says she was approached about her skirt shortly after arriving in Qatar and asked to change clothes. ‘But then the World Cup had yet to start. I think the rules have been relaxed since then.’

    In the evening darkness, when the last game of the day is over, the fan zones are empty. In procession it goes to the metro, with a few pacers in the front. The most vocal this time is 37-year-old Salem Bakhreabah from Saudi Arabia, equipped with a horn, a drum and an infectious laugh. “We fans must be as one country,” he says wistfully, “like the five fingers on one hand.” Then the subway doors close and he and his nephew Abdulaziz begin drumming and singing until the whole compartment joins in. “Yalla, yalla!”

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