DOHA, Nov 20 (Reuters) – The World Cup kicks off in Qatar on Sunday for a nation that has faced criticism for its first tournament in the Middle East with a reputation for delivering a smooth tournament. And the most expensive in history.
In a show of Arab solidarity, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and the presidents of Egypt and Algeria will be among the political leaders at the opening ceremony in a tent-shaped stadium, ahead of the first at 5:40 pm (1440 GMT) presided over by the Emir of Qatar. Match between hosts Qatar and Ecuador. The UN Secretary General will also be there.
The tournament marks the culmination of a 3-1/2-year boycott by three Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which ended in 2021, pushing emerging soft power Qatar onto the global stage. Check out the first direct flights from Israel to Qatar.
On stage, South Korean singer Jungkook of K-pop boy band BTS will perform a new official tournament song called Dreamers with Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi.
Qatar – which has denied allegations of worker abuse and discrimination – and FIFA hopes the focus will shift to performance on the pitch after increasing criticism of foreign workers’ rights, LGBT rights and social restrictions. Organizers have also denied allegations of accepting bribes for hosting rights.
At a news conference on Saturday, FIFA president Gianni Infantino rounded on European critics of the host nation, saying engagement was the only way to improve human rights, while Doha pointed to recent labor reforms.
Team captains from Denmark and Germany will wear One Love armbands as they prepare to compete in a conservative Muslim state where same-sex relationships are illegal, their teams said.
Alcohol is prohibited in stadiums. Organizers say everyone is welcome, while warning against public displays of affection.
A large number of fans are already in Doha but the main rush is expected later this week, with daily flights bringing fans from neighboring cities. On arrival, Argentina fan Julio Cesar said he expected a great atmosphere. “Even if there is no beer, we will drink before the match.”
As some guests enjoyed their first sip at the launch of the FIFA Fan Festival in central Doha on Saturday, hundreds of workers, all men, gathered at a playground in an industrial zone on the outskirts of the alcohol-free city. They will be able to watch matches there, priced from stadiums where many have painstakingly built other infrastructure for the event.
“I didn’t actually buy a ticket. They are expensive and I have to use the money for other things – like sending it back home to my family,” Qasim, a Ghanaian security officer who has worked in Qatar for four years, told Reuters. .
Neville, a 24-year-old Kenyan, and Willie, a 24-year-old Manchester City fan, were hired as bodyguards for the event. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Neville said.
Wealthy gas producer Qatar is the smallest country to host soccer’s biggest global event, organized at a cost of $220 billion. Population control will be key with around 1.2 million visitors – more than a third of Qatar’s population.
Workers were carting construction materials near the National Museum Saturday, putting the finishing touches on outdoor parks and sidewalks.
But at Lagoona Mall, where World Cup songs played, life continued as normal with people queuing at the bank, sipping coffee at cafes and buying groceries.
“I just came because I didn’t know how bad the traffic would be later this week,” said Ezra, an Egyptian woman who stocks at food retailer Carrefour.
Reporting by Maya Gebeili and Andrew Mills; Writing by Ghaida Gantous; Additional reporting by Yesim Dikmen, Thomas Suen, Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber, Ilze Filks and Karolos Grohmann in Doha and by Omar Fhamy and Mahmoud Mourad in Cairo; Edited by William Mallard, Kirsten Donovan
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