At 7.27 p.m. a light beer breeze is already blowing over the fan zone, the gigantic area at Bidda Park near Doha’s Corniche is being played by a DJ with techno beats. Most people are still bouncing from one foot to the other, no one is bawling, no one seems to be drunk. Since 7 p.m., visitors to the fan zone have been able to fill themselves up with “international beverages” – no, wrong, the bartender recommends four cups per person. The Egyptian with a hairnet, who is busy serving, says that of course it’s rubbish: “Who should check that please?”
And who cares Beer the Budweiser brand (also available in Zero and with a World Cup take-away cup) like that? “A lot, not just Westerners. People from Bangladesh, North Africa, everyone wants something to drink,” is his observation. But then there are surprisingly many on the surface without the beer for 50 riyals per person, the equivalent of around 13.30 euros.
The organizers call for restraint on signs: “drink responsibly” (drink responsibly) they advise people before they reach the beer line. Japanese fans just got four pieces in cardboard holders. They say: “It’s expensive. Will probably only stick to one beer per person.” An Argentinian looks really sad when asked: “The beer atmosphere is definitely missing.”
Then the golden trophy will be passed from one former world champion to the next, Lothar Matthäus is also there
Two Frenchmen who are still wandering around and wondering where to buy the political issue of beer – the beer line is further back, next to the VIP lounge and not immediately to be found – have had to take a lot of headwind at home because they are after Qatar have flown. “But we wanted to celebrate, to capture the mood here,” they say. The Qatari standup comedian Hamad Al Amari, who as a Qatari seems to be quite lonely in this fan zone – only a handful of Qataris can be seen in the very diverse fan base – meanwhile tries to heat it up. “Who loves sports?” he calls out to the crowd. A few clap. “Who loves music?” A few more clap. Young Saudis, undercover in t-shirts and jeans instead of the traditional white robes, don’t find him funny. “He laughs like the Grinch, he should just go,” says one.
When Hassan al-Thawadi, Secretary General of the World Cup Organizing Committee, stepped onto the stage, visibly moved, the Saudis listened spellbound: “It started twelve years ago. It was a dream, a lot of people didn’t believe in us, but we did believed in us.” He pauses, people gossip. “This World Cup is the first in the Arab world and it’s only for you,” says Thawadi. “We make history, you are all part of this history, believe me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” The young Saudis clap.
Then the golden trophy is passed from one former world champion to the next, Lothar Matthäus is also there. As Fifa President Gianni Infantino steps onto the stage, he first greets the fans in Arabic, with a not so bad pronunciation: “Ahlan wa sahlan, welcome”, he says, and then gets rid of the usual phrases: “The World is united in Doha”, the world is united in Doha, “Schokran gazilan” (Arabic: thank you very much). Then he counts down from 10, together with the fans, the fan zone is open!
The later it gets, the more exuberant the mood, but it stays until the end: orderly, peaceful, civilized – not a trace of excess. There is even a prayer room in the area. Above all, the few Qataris who can be seen in the fan zone keep their composure. They don’t even rock back and forth, only one jumps up briefly, but that’s about it. Meanwhile, women in hot pants and crop tops pass women in traditional saris or long robes. Small children fall asleep slowly.
“Public expressions of love are not exchanged in this country, that’s just our culture,” says a young Tunisian
Lots of young men from India and Bangladesh dance exuberantly, especially when DJ Panjabi MC starts playing, there’s no holding them back and you can tell: This World Cup is also their World Cup. The majority of foreigners come from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. For them, the free fan zone is a bit of a change from a day full of work. One of them is wearing an Argentina jersey. When Argentinian fans, and there are quite a few of them in the fan zone, pass by, they greet each other with a laugh.
In the meantime, a pleasantly fresh wind is blowing through the fan zone, during the day it was still over 30 degrees in Doha. The celebratory mood, the allegedly bought fans, the atmosphere that is so often doubted – the opposite is to be proven here. But do the small, green flashing drones that have been circling over the fans for hours inspire confidence?
Groups of female security guards in headscarves and baseball caps roam through the fan zone, past their male colleagues. Apparently they don’t have much to do. But the cleaning staff, who are already collecting the first spilled beer mugs. Again and again couples can be observed holding hands, some cuddling or hugging. But kissing or even more? Not a trace. “Public expressions of love are not exchanged in this country, that’s just our culture,” says a young Tunisian who has been living in Doha for a year.
“We Tunisians are a bit more relaxed about that. But what I still like is that the Qataris maintain their customs and customs – and remind people to respect this culture,” says the 29-year-old. He himself is often in Europe and is just as reminded of who is in charge there. “As soon as I set foot on European soil, I am scanned. Racial profiling is the order of the day there because the police assume that people who look like me are not following the rules,” he says, and takes out his smartphone to do the same film something. It doesn’t happen here every day, the whole spectacle.