Pints of Budweiser were not made available to fans until 7pm at Doha’s official fan park, three hours after England’s opening World Cup game kicked off
DOHA – A two-half game with some early controversy on Doha’s uber-cool Corniche. England’s participation in the World Cup was met with chronic indifference at the Qatar 2022 Fan Park and an impromptu big screen blackout as the players took a knee.
One by one, Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane bounced back, the commentary team referred to a gesture familiar to the English viewer, and images were lost, raising the inevitable question of censorship. But who knows? Was it the Supreme Committee with wire cutters or did the complicit Fifa Morality Police pull the plug?
The question was put to officials on site who, like many a home manager in the dugout, failed to notice the incident. “When that happened, I didn’t realize it,” the media executive said. “It has to be a Fifa thing. The feed is not controlled by Qatar. It is an international feed, which is why there is an English commentary.”
So there is nothing to see, especially not at a festival full of emptiness. No beer, no point was the unmistakable message from the absent hordes.
It was different when Budweiser opened the taps at 7 p.m. The natural inclination of South Americans to gather around a flag and sing allegiance to the motherland banished the rigors of a sterile afternoon.
Ordinarily, a performance by Uptown Funk would get even my aging knees pounding. It turned out to be more of an irritant, spoiling the splendor of the late afternoon sun. A medal of honor goes to the early twists of the day, the White Keys, an ensemble of London session musicians and singers who belted out their menu of funk, soul, disco and pop covers like it was Glasto.
Those who turned up hours in advance to claim a prime seat were able to enjoy face painting and a stroll through the Fifa store. An hour before kick-off, 20-year-old Jack Smith, from Blackpool, and his 39-year-old uncle Oliver, from nearby Parbold, were home free. It was both their first World Championships and neither was sure what to do with the experience.
Interestingly, the beer embargo was a bigger issue than the controversies that have gripped the media ahead of the 2022 World Cup. Smith, who has family in Doha, said: “The last few times I’ve been here it’s been such a really chilled place. I don’t feel any of it. It’s a big topic in the media, but not for us.”
We shouldn’t be surprised at that. Rightly or wrongly, the demos tend to respond to issues that touch them directly. The fate of those who are persecuted in a distant area because of their sexual orientation, gender or status is not at the forefront of their thinking. However, Smith added. “Of course it could be different if I were gay.”
Uncle Ollie was more concerned about the buzz deficit early in his two-week journey of his life. “It’s my first World Cup. We thought it would be rammed. But how often will you do that?” he said. “It’s disappointing not being able to get a beer until 7pm when the game kicks off at 4pm. But you have to make the best of it.”
Travelers disembarking from the Doha Metro at Al Bidda are greeted by Steve, a typically friendly soul whose job it is to say hello and point customers towards the slow-burning Nirvana. “How far is it?” I asked Steve who is from Kenya and has been living in Qatar for two years and he says he works in security. “Ten or 15 minutes,” he replied cheerfully.
Half an hour later I hobbled into camp, expecting to be lifted up by the wave of humanity. Instead it was just me, the Keys and a few good athletes doing their best to simulate the mosh pit.
Rumor has it that around 200 England fans were there. You must have strayed into the library in search of excitement. The England goal onslaught caused hardly any grumbling. Not even a boo from the Welsh, who scored in the second half ahead of their own big send-off against the USA.