June 7, 2023

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Diary of a Journalist in Qatar

The FIFA World Cup in Qatar till 18th December is very special. Criticized (and sometimes ignored) for environmental costs, the treatment of foreign workers, and a lack of respect for women’s and LGBTQI+ rights, France Radio’s special correspondent Jérôme Wall, who is in Qatar following the World Cup, gives us his daily impressions since his arrival.

Saturday, November 19: Dark Plains

The day before the World Cup, it’s usually a happy mess: supporters, music and chants at every corner. The entire planet lands in the organizing country. Except this year. Flight QR 042, Hamad International Airport in Doha. Three Mexican supporters carry their suitcases on a treadmill with huge sombreros on their heads. Two Senegalese sing at the top of their voices, under the curious eyes of a Qatari customs officer, unaccustomed to this kind of “excitement”. A taxi takes me to the hotel. Its driver is a Ghanaian who has lived in the emirate for seven years. “Is the city beautiful?”I ask him. “Yes, I’m fine”, And he replied with a desire not to tell me.

Arrival at the Hampton Hotel near the Corniche. This is where many foreign journalists stay. Full property name: Hampton by Hilton”“Old Town”. The oldest building in the neighborhood must be at most three years old! It consists only of a series of tall buildings, one of which is completely gilded. Looks stylish!

Doha Hamad International Airport
Doha Hamad International Airport

© Radio France
– Jerome Wall

Sunday, November 20: Al-Bayt Miraj

It’s the big day: the kick-off of the 22nd World Cup has been given. Head to Northern Qatar for the Qatar/Ecuador opener. An hour away, skyscrapers give way to smaller buildings and then to rocky desert. Suddenly, in the heat haze, we see the shadow of Al-Bayt Stadium. Like an illusion.

The building was built in the middle of the sea: the tent-like architecture of the region’s nomadic people. The interior of the roof is covered with large, colorful fabrics as a reminder of Qatar’s history. The stadium is also a symbol of the abuses of the tournament: according to the British newspaper “The Guardian”, the site, which was swept by hot and suffocating summer winds, was the site of the most casualties. It is impossible not to think about it.

Pictured this opening evening, this is the Qatari audience leaving their seats in the second period. The stadium is half empty at the end of the match. ““We don’t usually go to the stadium, but watch football on television, with family and friends”. One of them assures us. Plus, the game is bad. The world could not have started so badly.

In the heat haze, we see the shadow of Al-Bayt Stadium
In the heat haze, we see the shadow of Al-Bayt Stadium

© Radio France
– Jerome Wall

Monday, November 21: But what is this city?

I am planning a report on the artificial peninsula of Kedaifan, north of Doha. We are going for a three-quarter hour drive. The same landscapes: skyscrapers and many skyscrapers. Architects will have a field day. We take wide asphalt routes, four or five lanes depending on the area. When the roads cross, it gives great crossroads. Grand, like service stations, glitter and make a French motorist green with envy. Here, a full tank is a maximum of 15 euros. The price of a pint of beer!

The car here has a special status. In many buildings, including the one that serves as the accreditation center for this world championship, car parks are on the surface and offices and people are underground. History needs a bit of a refresher, but visually, it’s special. Another way to get around is the metro: three colored lines (green, red and yellow), very practical for supporters to get to the stadium. A curiosity too: the feeling of entering the Orient-Express, comfortable seats, gilding everywhere, almost too much. A metro in the image of the country in a nutshell.

On the artificial peninsula of Katafan
On the artificial peninsula of Katafan

© Radio France
– Jerome Wall

Tuesday, November 22: The Meaning of the Feast?

The news broke shortly before the start of the match: no alcohol around the stadiums. A heresy for many supporters that the World Cup is beer and games. To buy a pint (watch your wallet!), you have to drink in disguise. Some places known to amateurs: an Irish pub on the 14th floor of a large hotel, the roof of another luxury hotel, where you pay a ticket of 150 Qatari riyals (40 euros) and show your credentials (in this case his passport) to be able to return. Lots of Brits and a few South Americans try their luck.

Another way to buy alcohol is to ask for an official permit issued by the authorities: 2000 rials (over 500 euros) per month for bottles and prohibiting its consumption on the street. If an empty bottle is found on a public highway, a scan can identify the owner. At least we avoid drunken parades of supporters through the streets at night!

Supporters meet in a pub above a hotel
Supporters meet in a pub above a hotel

© Radio France
– Jerome Wall

Thursday, November 24: Lusail, the city that came out of nowhere

Head to Lucille Stadium for the day’s highlight match between Brazil and Serbia. Stopping for a few hours in this new city north of Doha built for the World Cup, it’s dangerous to find the right adjective to describe it: weird, strange, unreal or just plain useless? You have to imagine dozens of skyscrapers popping out of the ground in just a few years. Before, there was only desert and some beaches.

With tens of billions of dollars, the emirate has provided a city of 200,000 people. “Life is good there”, gave me a citizenship. And quiet: that day, it looks like a ghost town. Little traffic, no one on the streets except security guards and guards at the entrance to buildings, mostly Indians and Pakistanis. At the entrance to a large shopping center resembling a large Austro-Hungarian palace, the same crowd can be found: all major Western brands have their place.

Many of these increasingly bold architectural buildings are hotels: thousands of rooms. But with the World Cup just days away, who will occupy them? Did Qatar find it too big?

Katara Twin Towers, the luxury hotel symbol of the new city of Lusail
Katara Twin Towers, the luxury hotel symbol of the new city of Lusail

© Radio France
– Jerome Wall

Lusail, a new city of 200,000 people, continues its construction
Lusail, a new city of 200,000 people, continues its construction

© AFP
– Jerome Wall

Saturday, November 26: Arab Pride

As of yesterday, Qatar was officially removed from its world. It is the first time in the tournament’s history that a host country has entered so early. The emirate did not make this a national drama. The abolition of “al-Annabi” (“The Bordeaux”) is greeted in the capital with a mixture of fatalism and indifference. But that doesn’t matter to Qatar.

The Arab world shines on and off the pitch as the World Cup kicks off, with a colorful confederation of supporters enthralling Saudi Arabia. It is a pride for the Arab-Muslim world. On the stand, it is a mix of Tunisian, Moroccan, Saudi, Qatari and Palestinian flags. It is an aspect that we, as Europeans and Westerners, do not adequately measure with our eyes.

In a bus, I chat with my seatmate. His name is Khaled, this Tunisian has been living in Qatar for 12 years. He shows me his badge: he is a soldier in the Emir’s personal guard. And he has no clarity, this World Cup win, even if it upsets the Europeans. This feeling is far from isolated.

Tunisian fans after the match against Australia
Tunisian fans after the match against Australia

© Radio France
– Jerome Wall

Sunday, November 27: Press traffic jam

The World Cup is a journalistic Tower of Babel: colleagues from almost every country cover the event, thousands of journalists and many working habits. “Moroccan teammates cheer for first win.”“Atlas Lions” In this World Cup. In the press gallery, we meet former football stars turned consultants. Hello John Terry, the former Chelsea and England defender or the selfie-proliferating Colombian star Carlos Valderrama.

But the palm of happy chaos goes to the Brazilians without any controversy. You have to imagine a mixed zone, a place where you can interview players after the matches, almost 200 meters long and it becomes a theatrical stage: microphone in hand, camera on shoulder, soon buzzing journalists. The Seleçao’s star player leaves the locker room. If it’s his idol, Neymar, the size of the happ doubles. Everyone wants to ask their question. After the game against Serbia, the Brazil captain had to stop at least 30 times for interviews. It is already 2 am in Doha.

The press box at Al-Tumama Stadium during the Iran-USA match
The press box at Al-Tumama Stadium during the Iran-USA match

© Radio France
– Jerome Wall

Tuesday, November 29: Football rights for migrant workers too!

Let it be said: The Football World Cup should be a treat for everyone! In Doha, Qatari organizers have set up a fan zone for migrant workers, those tiny hands who have shaped the country in recent years. Not in the city center, but on the seafront, like the Corniche. But in the Asiatown district, hundreds of thousands of workers from Asia and Africa congregate at a cricket ground. We are in a windy industrial area on the edge of a freeway.

But everything is there: the giant screen, beanbags of all colors to sit on, snacks, small football fields to keep busy before or during halftime of matches. Throughout the day and especially in the evening, thousands of people, Indians, Nepalese, many Kenyans recruited for security at the stadiums in recent months, come to watch the World Cup matches. Most of them are unable to buy tickets for matches or even visit city center fan zones with foreign visitors, far from home! Party yes, but not with everyone.

Asia City's fan zone
Asia City’s fan zone

© Radio France
– Jerome Wall

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