Robert Jackman

What visitors to the Qatar World Cup can expect

Football fans heading to the Gulf are in for a strange experience

  • From Spectator Life
[Getty Images]

In his first interview since being reappointed, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly laid down some clear diplomatic water between his party and Labour – confirming that, unlike Keir Starmer, he would attend this winter’s Qatar World Cup.

The Foreign Secretary won’t be alone. The Football Association expects that some 10,000 England fans will make the journey to a World Cup widely regarded as the most controversial in history (though Prince William, the FA’s president, will reportedly not be among them).

So what awaits them when they get there? If the headlines so far are anything to go by, they could be in for a rude awakening. From sky-high prices for a pint (and drunk tanks for fans rich enough to have too much) to potential airport chaos, the upcoming tournament is seen by some as a fiasco waiting to happen.

My own visit to Qatar – to attend a football match billed as a World Cup ‘test run’ – was less dramatic. But it did give an insight into just how strange the whole experience might be for those heading to the Gulf this winter.

First, the positives. At the risk of treading dangerously close to that old cliche about autocrats making the trains run on time, Doha’s new metro system works like a dream. On the night of the Lusail Super Cup, it ferried tens of thousands of fans to the stadium with minimal disruption. You certainly wouldn’t get that in London or Paris.

And what of the stadiums themselves? While the likes of the Lusail Stadium will always be marred by the accusations of human rights abuses during their construction, they really are state of the art. A bittersweet tribute, then, to the construction workers whose faces are displayed on the side of the stadium.

At the risk of treading dangerously close to that old cliche about autocrats making the trains run on time, Doha’s new metro system works like a dream

But as brilliant as the stadium itself might be, the Lusail atmosphere felt disappointingly flat.

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