Many of the 1 million people who had been expected to make the World Cup journey say they have been impressed by the seemingly safe and welcoming environment put on by their Qatari hosts.
“It’s amazing, honestly, what an amazing job Qatar has done putting this World Cup on,” Elias Damouni said outside the Khalifa International Stadium, just outside Doha, for the U.S. men’s knockout game against Netherlands on Saturday. Describing the country as “super safe, super fun, super accommodating, and the only thing I can think to say is,” he paused to cover his heart, “we really thank the Qataris.”
Another American, David Crabb, was spending the day browsing the Souq Waqif, a marketplace in Doha. “I had no idea what it would be like here but actually it’s been really hospitable,” he said. “There’s been a lot of fun to be had at all the games.”
Of course, not everyone can enjoy such a carefree experience.
Same-sex relations are illegal in Qatar, and migrant workers have been ill-treated although recent reforms have been commended by the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency.
In a written statement, a Qatari government official said that “all visitors — regardless of background or beliefs — have been warmly welcomed in Qatar” and that “Qatar does not tolerate discrimination against anyone.”
It said the World Cup had been a “catalyst for positive changes in Qatar,” namely the improvements in laborers’ rights.
The run-up to this World Cup was dominated by debate about Qatar’s human rights. But that calmed once the tournament began, with many Western journalists seemingly wooed by the tournament’s smooth running and entertaining soccer.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted: “hats off to Qatar for hosting an incredible World Cup so far.”
For many in Qatar, the pre-tournament criticisms are seen as an unfortunate distraction from what they see as the real issues.
“Everybody’s a little bit upset and frustrated by the Western media coverage,” said Antoniades at Georgetown University in Qatar.
“But everybody is proud of what the country has managed to pull off,” he said. “It has brought people together, it has brought leaders together who are trying to build things.”
He added, “We live in a very volatile world right now, and this is exactly what should be at the center of the World Cup.”
Alexander Smith reported from London, Elizabeth Kuhr reported from Doha, Qatar.