The football soap opera never ends. No sooner will the whistle blow on today’s Champions League Final than our attention will turn to another season and another showpiece event. We are now less than six months away from what may prove to be the most controversial tournament in the sport’s history: the 22nd men’s World Cup, which is due to be held in Qatar between November 21 and December 18 (qatar2022.qa). Anyone who has applied for tickets will now, if not already, be finding out whether they’ve been successful – but there is a little more to ponder with this particular goal-fest than whether you can get to a game…
Why is the tournament controversial?
Allegations of corruption and bribery in the bidding process – firmly rebutted – have swirled around the tournament since December 2010, when Qatar was awarded what will be the first Fifa World Cup in the Middle East. Rather more serious are the reports that more than 6,500 workers from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka died while building the infrastructure – including seven new stadia – between 2010 and 2020 (this “low” number does not cover additional migrants from the Philippines and Kenya). There have also been allegations by Amnesty International of forced labour and withheld wages. The human rights organisation has published stories from workers, who claim they’ve been “abused and exploited – while Fifa makes huge profits”. Qatar has denied Amnesty’s claims of worker exploitation. Further issues – especially over LBGTQ fans – will be increasingly voiced as kick-off gets closer.
I just want to watch the match live. Can I do that?
Assuming you have been successful in the ballot then yes, absolutely. Ticket holders will receive further details, but a key step will be the need to apply for a “Hayya card” (see hayya.qatar2022.qa) – a pre-registration requirement, which will double as a de-facto tourism visa and a pass to gain access to stadium areas (with an appropriate match ticket).
How do I get there?
Qatar Airways (qatarairways.com) is the obvious option – it offers direct flights to the Qatari capital Doha from Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh and Manchester (non-stop services from Birmingham and Cardiff, placed on hold in the pandemic, may yet return as well). British Airways (ba.com) flies in too – from Gatwick.
The Hayya card will also provide access to match-day public transport – a convenient thing, even if five of the eight stadia are located in either Doha or Al-Rayyan (a westerly part of the capital conurbation), while a mere 40 miles separate the coastal city of Al-Khor, the location the northernmost arena, from Al-Wakrah, the site of southernmost arena. England are scheduled to play in both Al-Khor and Al-Rayyan during the group stage – and may be joined in them by either Wales or Scotland, once the qualification process is completed.
What can I take with me?
Here’s where it becomes complicated. Qatar is an Islamic country, and there are strict rules on imports, including personal possessions. Your baggage should not contain alcohol, drugs, pornography, pork products or non-Islamic religious books. If in doubt, err on the side of caution – seemingly innocent items may cause you trouble. For example, e-cigarettes have been banned in Qatar since 2014. More details at gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/qatar.
How to dress for the Qatar World Cup
Something you should pack is conservative clothing – there is an expectation of modesty in dress. Women are advised to cover their shoulders and wear long skirts or trousers in public, including when driving. Avoid bikinis on public beaches (limit this to the confines of a private beach or your hotel pool). Men should avoid toplessness and shorts in public places.
Will it be a dry tournament?
No. But it will be notably short on some of the boozy scenes that have scarred previous World Cups. Alcohol is not prohibited in Qatar, but access to it is limited – generally to licensed restaurants and bars in hotels. The legal drinking age is 21. Drinking outside these parameters is illegal, and can be subject to punishments of up to 3,000 Qatari riyals (about £660) or six months in prison.
That said, after lobbying from the beer industry, fans will be able to buy drinks at the game, from kiosks in the stadium grounds (although they won’t be able to have them in the stands, or within sight of the pitch). Special pop-up “beach clubs” offering alcohol are also planned – but supporters have been warned to consume it in moderation, in a country where public drunkenness is anathema.
Who can I travel with, and are the LGBTQ community welcome?
Here’s where it becomes trickier still. Unmarried co-habitation and sex outside wedlock are forbidden in Qatar, and can be punishable by a prison sentence. Which means that, even if you and your other half have been together for 30 years, but have never tied the knot, you can’t in theory share a hotel room.
The same diktat will apply to LBGTQ travellers. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar. Asked in 2010 how LBGTQ fans could attend the tournament, Fifa’s then-president Sepp Blatter laughed that “they should refrain from any sexual activities [if they want to travel]”. Blatter has since been disgraced, but – aside from agreeing to rainbow flags being displayed at World Cup fixtures, and polished words on how “this tournament [will leave] truly transformational social, human, economic and environmental legacies”, from Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary general of the tournament’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy – Qatar’s legal position is still set in stone.
That said Fifa recently threatened hotels denying rooms to same-sex couples with cancellation of their contracts, and has said it “is confident that all necessary measures will be in place for LGBTQ supporters, so that they, like everyone else, can feel welcome and safe”. An investigation by Norwegian, Danish and Swedish journalists earlier this month saw three of the 69 hotels on the official FIFA list refuse a booking request from a gay couple. Another 20 issued warnings about public displays of affection, although this advice goes for all couples.
Where can I stay?
If you’re wondering how to book a hotel for the Fifa World Cup 2022, you will need to show proof of your ticket application number and book via the official Qatar 2022 portal. Here you can choose between hotels, apartments and villas, basic cabins in desert fan parks and even static cruise ships. The country is also allowing residents to host ‘friends and family’, if they register.
In terms of hotels, most of the options are large international chain properties – expect various Hilton hotels and a plush habour-side Four Seasons outpost. Unfortunately, the majority are not available having been block-booked by corporations. However, some new hotels are still under construction and rooms are yet to be released.
If you do opt for a cabin in a desert fan park, be warned that these are essentially converted shipping containers and do not have air-conditioning.
Is there anything to see beyond the stadium?
As mentioned, Qatar is not a large country (it’s the planet’s 164th “biggest”), but it offers food, history and culture for those happy to seek it. Doha is architecturally incredible, splicing traditional souks to skyscrapers by the likes of Jean Nouvel. There are luxury resorts on Qatar’s 350 miles of coast, but also footprints in the desert, like the Al Jassasiya rock carvings – 874 neolithic petroglyphs up in the north-east (see visitqatar.qa). For half-and-half fun, Trailfinders (trailfinders.com) offers a 10-night “Qatar & Seychelles” break – from £3,275 a head (not including flights).
All travellers must download the Ehteraz track and trace app, and show a UK Covid pass or a negative PCR test taken within the last 48 hours, as well as proof of full vaccination