Doha, Qatar – On the eve of kickoff, excitement is running high for Qatar’s citizens and foreign residents. It has been a long wait since the Gulf state was awarded the football World Cup in 2010.
This period has been marked by a frenzy of construction work that transformed the capital, Doha, and its surrounding areas – and has come with its own set of challenges and opportunities.
With the vast majority of Qatar’s three million population being from abroad, the gas-rich country has been able to capitalise on the influx of foreign talent, skills and cultures brought by those who were driven to it by the promise of jobs.
So, how do some of Qatar’s foreign residents feel about the FIFA World Cup being held in Qatar? Al Jazeera spoke to some of them to find out.
Paul El Boustani is of Polish-Lebanese descent but was born in Qatar and calls it home.
The 31-year-old finance executive says he is proud that Qatar will host the World Cup but admits there were many frustrating moments as the country readied for action.
“One day you are driving down a road to work and the next day the road is closed without notice for infrastructure work. That got frustrating on a regular basis,” he said. “Also parking was and still is a big issue due to reduced spots as a result of construction.”
‘Hypocrisy in Western press’
Syrian-American Bayan Kayyali has been in Qatar since 2019.
The 18-year-old university student says it is significant that an Arab and Islamic country is hosting the tournament because it will allow people in the West to know the region better, as not many of them “are exposed to this culture”.
“There’s a lot of hypocrisy in the Western press about the World Cup coverage. A lot of it is rooted in xenophobia and racism,” she argues, referring to negative reports about Qatar in the lead-up to the event.
“Hosting the games comes with its own challenges, be it Qatar, Russia, Brazil,” she says, citing the countries where the World Cup was held previously. “It’s always going to come with its own complications.”
Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and its human rights record have been in the spotlight since it won the right to host the tournament, leading to calls for teams to boycott it altogether. Qatari and FIFA officials have hit back at the criticism and denounced what they described as a “double standard”.
A recent cartoon by a French publication depicting Qatari footballers as “terrorists” sparked outrage on social media, with users calling out its “blatant Islamophobia” and “racism”.
“France also has many laws that discriminate against people on the basis of religion,” Kayyali says. “Also, Denmark’s players have decided to wear faded-out jerseys to protest human rights issues in Qatar. But Denmark has a policy of sending back Syrian refugees to Syria,” she adds.
‘Awareness on importance of sports’
Justin, a 30-year-old personal trainer from the southwestern Kenyan town of Kisii, has been living in Qatar since March 2012.
“When I came to Qatar, I went to school to become a personal trainer. It wasn’t easy as I had to pay from the small salary I was receiving as a recreation attendant. Now, I make a living from helping people become healthy,” he says.
Having been in Qatar through the biggest part of the preparations leading to the World Cup, Justin does not shy away from complaining about the traffic that was caused by the continuous construction.
“What would normally be a 10- to 15-minute ride, transformed overnight to 30-45 minutes. It was difficult to meet clients or come to work; a lot of time was being lost just stuck in the car.”
But Qatar winning the right to host the event has had many positive, Justin notes.
“Since the country really started working on getting ready, there has been a lot of awareness on the importance of sports. More and more people come to train in the gym, lose the excess weight and become healthier. It has become a trend, and I hope this will continue after all the World Cup hype will fade,” he says.
‘Great Middle East travel adventure’
Ismael Cadus is a 37-year-old Palestinian teacher who was born in Brazil but now resides in Doha.
“Football fans will now get acquainted with Arab culture. This is not a moment of pride just for Qatar, but across the Arab world,” he says.
“For many travellers from distant places like Brazil, they don’t just get to experience the thrill of the World Cup. They can travel to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, the home of the pharaohs, Egypt – all in one trip. It’s a great Middle East travel adventure,” he adds.
‘Habibi, come to Qatar’
Aurelie, a 31-year-old travel planner from France, says World Cup excitement is palpable across Doha but in the lead-up to it, residents have faced a number of challenges.
“Life has become more expensive, especially rent,” she says. “With the World Cup approaching, most landlords have raised rents on properties. It’s painful, who likes paying more rent? Although everything is expensive in Qatar, except for gas.”
Aurelie adds that frequent road closures and traffic diversions during the massive infrastructure push were annoying for residents, but feels it is a “treat” to be residing in Qatar while it hosts the event.
“It’s a huge challenge for Qatar because it’s the first time the World Cup will take place in a Gulf country and in the Arab world,” she adds.
“But it’s the first time in the history of World Cup that all the stadiums are so near. You won’t need to be on a flight to follow a team, just hop on a metro train. Fans like me who are supporters of several teams won’t have to miss out on matches because of travel issues, it’s all been made super easy.
“Habibi, come to Qatar and find out.”