Fantastic Stadiums, World Class Transport, Arab Hospitality: How Qatar is Winning Hearts of World Cup Fans

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No shouting from rooftops, no thumping of chest, no big talks. Just a quiet confidence and a collective will of Qatari and Arab people helped make this dream come true

Ivan DSouza

APART from the fantastic matches — and shock upsets — that have gripped the imagination of fans, the way Qatar has organised the Fifa World Cup is winning hearts big time.

Right from the fantastic stadiums, to the world class transport system and infrastructure, Doha has gone all out in organising the greatest sporting show on earth with flair and panache.

No shouting from the rooftops, no thumping of the chest, no big talks. Just a quiet confidence and a collective will of the Qatari and Arab people helped make this dream come true.

The UAE President, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who visited Qatar on Monday, rightly called the World Cup “a source of pride for the Arab world”.

Years before it all began, some sections of the media from some parts of the world went to town about so-called ‘issues’ at the World Cup. However, if you were among the lucky fans who could make it to Doha and see what Qatar has put together, you will realise that those were but non-issues (or a case of sour grapes?)

Right from the moment we landed at Hamad International Airport, to the morning we flew out of Qatar as the rising sun cast a golden glow over Doha, we felt nothing but welcome wherever we went. Be it the metro stations where smiling volunteers with huge placards of hands greeted us with shouts of “metro this way, buses that way”, to the stadiums where everything was clearly marked out and hundreds of volunteers at hand to guide ticket holders to their seats, it was game on.

A US fan, who has been to the two previous World Cups, and whom we met on the way to the Spain-Japan clash, said this has to rank among the most well-organised, super convenient, world cups for fans. “Imagine no travelling for days or long long hours on the road while moving from one venue to the next. I managed to watch the Belgium-Croatia match at 6pm on Thursday and take the metro to Khalifa Stadium to catch the Spain-Japan classic within just two hours. Where in the world can you do that?”

He also had a thing or two to say about the western press, calling it “biased”, while praising Doha for proving all naysayers wrong. “Come to Doha or Dubai, you will leave with memories of a lifetime,” he told Khaleej Times.

Rachel, an Indian expat from Dubai who was there for two matches, said all of Doha felt like one big football fest, with matches showing at beaches, restaurants, cafeterias, hotels and parks, and people having animated conversations about their favourite teams wherever she went. “I saw two matches and the atmosphere at the stadiums were something out of the world. Watching a World Cup match in a stadium with 50,000 screaming fans must surely rank as one of my greatest life experiences,” she told Khaleej Times.

She also got a chance to visit the Al Bida fan zone in a busy four-day trip. “The atmosphere there was simply buzzing – double so since we could sip on our favourite beverages while watching Argentina thrash Poland,” she added.

Ismail, a Saudi Arabian fan, who travelled on the flight with us to Doha from Riyadh (we were transiting there), for the Saudi-Mexico clash, said this World Cup was a triumph for Qatar and the Arab world in general. “We feel like one big Arab nation, and are proud to see the greatest football event being held in a fellow GCC country. It is definitely changing the world’s perception towards our part of the world.”

Qatar resident Santosh Pillai, who has been in Doha for 31 years, said he has literally seen the transformation of Doha into a ultra modern metropolis ever since the cup was awarded to Qatar some years back. He said that for millions of expats and citizens there, the World Cup is a dream come true. “We are truly proud of what our country has done. The happy faces of all who visited our country is proof of what a fantastic world cup this is turning out to be,” he said.

As the World Cup slowly reaches a rousing crescendo, we can sit back and feel proud that the region we call our second home has hosted people from all corners of the globe and showed the world how beautiful — and welcoming – our people and our part of the world are.

And yes, also prove to the world that football can truly unite the world!

Khaleej Times

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