Fifa World Cup 2022
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A fan order beers at a fan zone ahead of the Fifa World Cup in Doha, Qatar on Saturday. Photo: AP

Fifa World Cup: Thousands turned away from fan zone at concert venue celebrating start of World Cup

  • Featuring Lebanese singer Myriam Fares and Colombian singer Maluma, the concert comes before the expected 1.2 million fans fully arrive in Doha
  • With Qatar deciding to ban beer from stadiums, fan zones such as the concert venue on the corniche will be the only Fifa-associated area serving pints

Authorities turned away thousands of fans on Saturday night from a concert celebrating the World Cup beginning the next day in Qatar, showing the challenges ahead for Doha as it tries to manage crowds in Fifa’s most-compact tournament ever.

Disappointed fans took being turned away largely in stride. Once away from the venue, Qatari police, security guards and others guided the thousands away with giant foam fingers, loudhailers and blinking traffic control wands.

But the concert comes before the 1.2 million fans expected for the tournament fully arrive in this nation on the Arabian Peninsula.

Fans crowd the Fifa Fan Festival site in Doha, Qatar on Saturday. Photo: AP

And with Qatar deciding only on Friday to ban beer sales from tournament stadiums, fan zones such as the one on the corniche hosting the concert will be the only Fifa-associated area serving pints – meaning more fans could wind up there.

“We know that what the police say here goes,” said a 30-year-old trucker from Mumbai, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals. He and his friends had got a rare day off from Hamad Port to walk 6km (3.7 miles) to the fan zone before being turned away.

“We’re sad to leave because it’s too early,” he added. “There’s nothing we can do.”


Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which oversees the World Cup, did not immediately respond to questions about the fan zone turning away crowds Saturday night.


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Qatar security interrupts Danish broadcast, threatens to smash camera during World Cup show

Qatar, home to 3 million people, will see its population swell as the tournament begins. Already, it has spent over US$200 billion for improvements across this energy-rich country slightly larger than Jamaica.

That includes a vast new underground metro system that can whisk fans from the airport to matches. It has even closed schools for the month and urged residents to work from home.

But Associated Press journalists already have seen pinch points where a large number of people can be bunched together even before the tournament begins.


Qatar’s new stadiums all set for World Cup 2022 but its builders are left in the dust

Qatar’s new stadiums all set for World Cup 2022 but its builders are left in the dust

In Doha’s Souq Waqif, a major tourist destination, a walkway between outdoor restaurants quickly filled shoulder to shoulder Friday night. Its nearby metro station saw long queues, with some pushing and shoving between orderlies and those taking the train.


Saturday night, however, started much smoother as Friday is the mandatory day off for all workers in the country. Fewer people initially stood along the corniche as a massive fireworks show suddenly went off, illuminating its skyscraper skyline to awed passers-by.

Fifa World Cup: Qatar to ban alcohol at stadiums

Just after 8pm, however, crowds thronged the Fan Zone, hoping to attend a concert featuring Lebanese singer Myriam Fares and Colombian singer Maluma. But as hundreds stood inside a holding pen, thousands more were outside the venue.


At one exit, the crowd tried to argue their way inside, with a few spectators slipping past guards. At an entrance, one security guard with a loudhailer pleaded with the crowd: “For your safety, please go back!”

Still, some stayed and waited, hoping for a chance to get in, like Ayman Awad, a geologist who flew to Qatar on Saturday from Sudan.

“I won’t give up,” Awad said. “I hope it doesn’t stay this crowded.”

Colombian singer Maluma performs during the opening of the Fifa fan festival at the Qatar World Cup in Doha on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Many foreign fans, aware of Qatar’s restrictions on free speech, were wary of criticising the host country as they waited. A group of Saudi tourists who expressed disappointment at the situation to an Associated Press journalist later retracted their quotes for fear of wading into “politics”.


The Fan Zone at Al Bidda Park plans other major concerts as well during the tournament. But it has taken on new prominence after Friday’s decision to ban alcohol sales at stadiums: it will be one of the few places other than hotel bars and private residences where fans can have a drink while partying in this conservative Islamic nation.

On Saturday night, a quick set of calls to several bars in Doha’s West Bay, an area full of high-end hotels, found that all were fully booked the night before the tournament as the Fan Zone was shut. Yet the real test will begin from Sunday, as Ecuador faces Qatar in the opening match and the group stage follows behind – with the crowds to come.