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A few hours before the start of the FIFA World Cup, organized for the first time in the Arab world, the Qataris oscillate between excitement and inflexible pride in the face of criticism of the event. Report from the streets of Doha.

The World Cup takes place from November 20 to December 18, 2022 in Qatar.
The World Cup takes place from November 20 to December 18, 2022 in Qatar. © FMM Graphic Studio

“It’s an extraordinary feeling. I was fifteen when I watched the awarding ceremony. I remember the explosion of joy when it was announced. And now the World Cup is taking place in Qatar. “, rejoices Aïssa al-Khaldi, who, like many Qataris, remembers the exact place where he was when his country became officially host country of the competition in 2010.

This 27-year-old defines himself as an “absolute football fan”. Qatar jersey and cap on his shoulders, he sips a fruit juice on the terrace in the souk Waqif, the “standing market”, the secular center of the city.

Aïssa does not sulk her pleasure in front of this World Cup in Qatar
Aïssa does not sulk her pleasure in front of this World Cup in Qatar © Romain Houeix, France 24

Aïssa is happy on the eve of the World Cup. He obtained tickets for the three matches of Qatar, including the inaugural which takes place Sunday, November 20 against Ecuador. He is optimistic about his country’s chances of breaking out of their strong group with the presence of the Netherlands and Senegal. But, realistically, he still sees Argentina going to the final against a European team. “Why not against France”, he smiles fair play.

The atmosphere is based on foreign supporters

For the moment, he especially tastes his pleasure of the atmosphere which rises in the souk, in the middle of the flags installed everywhere. Under the benevolent eye of security, a few groups of foreign supporters come to enliven the market. Argentinians sing songs loud and clear to which Portuguese, Brazilians and Croats respond. A little further on, a Saudi sewed his flag with that of Morocco, Tunisia and Qatar to celebrate the friendship between the four Arab nations qualified for this first World Cup in the Middle East.

An Arab friendship flag in the Waqif market.
An Arab friendship flag in the Waqif market. © Romain Houeix, France 24

Qataris are more reserved. They observe the scenes with an amused air while for the most part avoiding answering the questions. Children don’t have that shyness. Stars in their eyes, they talk about their hopes for this World Cup.

“By organizing this World Cup, we are among the greats,” said Jalalah, 10. “I want Qatar to win.”

“It’s a great achievement for Qatar and the Arabs of the Gulf. I hope it will be the best World Cup ever,” added Ali, his twin brother, who also supports Neymar’s Brazil.

Ali and Jalalah, accompanied by their older brother.
Ali and Jalalah, accompanied by their older brother. © Romain Houeix, France 24

Remains only for the adults, the criticisms which rain on Qatar since the attribution of the 22e World Cup remains in the throat of many.

“In every country there are problems.”

Like Aïssa: “Many doubted our ability to organize such an event given our small size, but we rose to the challenge. We have exceptional infrastructure. I have no doubt that it will be a great success for Qatar”, praises the young man who invites Europeans to focus on their situations rather than judging his country.

“It is true that there was a problem concerning the rights of foreign workers but that was before because today the situation has improved”, justifies the fervent supporter of Qatar. “In every country there are problems.”

Dressed in the thobe and the izar – the traditional white shirt and trousers – and wearing the ghutra, 31-year-old Suhaim Althain does not say anything else. While this corporate international relations manager isn’t as fanatical about football as Aïssa, he intends to make the most of the competition. He bought tickets for eight matches including the inaugural Qatar – Ecuador. But the one he expects the most is Argentina – Mexico with the promise of seeing passionate supporters in action.

“This World Cup is a success for the whole Arab world”

While enjoying his cool drink, he takes the time to reflect and weigh every word when it comes to responding to the criticisms leveled against his country, between the catastrophic ecological impact of competition and respect for the rights of migrant workers. . He regrets a certain misinformation and puts the magnifying glass on the problems, to the detriment of a global vision of the event.

>> To read also: The World Cup in Qatar, a world of “excess”

“I think this World Cup will change the world’s view of Qatar and the whole region: a country that has a lot to offer, with a rich culture and a diversity of people living there,” he continued. it, before shelling past examples. “Germany stopped being associated with the Nazis after hosting the World Cup (in 1974 and in 2006, nldr). South Africa is no longer seen as underdeveloped like the rest of the continent after the Mondial-2010. All the supporters returned delighted from Russia in 2018…”

“In terms of developments, our country has changed rapidly over the past twelve years. To host the World Cup, a lot of infrastructure has come out of the ground, not only stadiums but also transport, accommodation… All of this is part of in a longer-term plan: the 2030 vision”, he recalls, referring to this plan launched in 2008 by the government to develop the country in a sustainable way by 2030. “The World Cup was a tremendous accelerator.

“This World Cup is a success for the whole Arab world,” he concludes. “Now she’s here [à Doha, nldr]. We should start focusing on matches.”

The World Cup in Qatar beyond football:

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