World Cup 2022: Qatar to welcome fans from blockading countries

The Gulf nation also said it wants to make alcohol accessible for visiting fans as it prepares to host the tournament.

    A couple take a seflie while the official emblem for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is displayed on the facade of the Musheireb Downtown Doha building at Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar on September 3 [EPA]
    A couple take a seflie while the official emblem for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is displayed on the facade of the Musheireb Downtown Doha building at Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar on September 3 [EPA]

    Qatar has promised that fans from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Bahrain - the four countries that have imposed a blockade on the Gulf state since 2017 - would not be barred from attending the 2022 World Cup games, the head of the organising committee told reporters.

    Nasser al-Khater, chief executive of the 2022 World Cup, told reporters on Thursday that fans from the blockading countries who wish to attend the World Cup in Qatar will be welcomed.

    Qatar still views the tournament as a "World Cup for this region" despite the blockade which has made travel to the country more difficult and has resulted in increased airfares.

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    Of the four countries boycotting Qatar, the teams of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the most likely to qualify.

    "We have no issues welcoming fans from blockading countries, they are welcome to come now and they will be welcome to come in 2022," al-Khater said.

    "I hope by then that situation would have been resolved."

    The Saudi-led bloc cut diplomatic and trade ties with Doha, and imposed a sea, land and air blockade on Qatar, claiming it supported "terrorism" and was too close to Iran.

    Qatar rejected the claims and said there was "no legitimate justification" for the severance of relations.

    The Gulf nation will become the first from the Arab world to host a football World Cup.

    Alcohol availability

    Qatar wants to make alcohol accessible for visiting fans when it hosts the World Cup and will use cruise ships to ensure it can accommodate an expected one million visitors.

    "Qatar is a conservative country, it's a modest country, alcohol is not part of our culture however, hospitality is," al-Khater told a group of reporters.

    "For the World Cup, we want to make sure (alcohol) is accessible for fans who want to have a drink while they are here, so we want to find designated locations for fans to have alcohol other than the traditional places."

    Until now, FIFA and local organisers have said only that they had not reached an agreement on whether alcohol would be served in stadiums or fan zones.

    Al-Khater said the country of 2.7 million would also consider lowering the price - currently at about $15 for a half-litre (500ml) of beer.

    "The issue of the cost of alcohol is something that is being discussed right now," he said. "We recognise there is an issue with price."

    Alcohol in Qatar can only be bought and consumed in a handful of hotels while visitors cannot import it into the country. Being drunk in a public place is socially unacceptable.

    In January, Qatar added a 100 percent alcohol tax that increased prices but then lowered them around 20 to 30 percent.

    Although he did not see a high risk of hooliganism, al-Khater said having the fans of all 32 teams in a small area could lead to altercations, adding that Qatar was looking at "unique accommodation solutions" including cruise ships and fan villages in the desert.

    Al-Khater also said homosexuals had nothing to fear in a country where homosexual acts are strictly prohibited, although the law is rarely enforced.

    "Public displays of affection are frowned upon here but that applies to everyone," he said.

    "I would like to assure any fan of any gender orientation, religion or race to rest assured that Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world and that they will all be welcomed here."

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency