Fans draped in flags continued to pour into Qatar in the run-up to the Middle East’s inaugural football World Cup, even as organizers banned the sale of beer in stadiums – a last-minute decision largely welcomed by the country’s residents and rejected. rejected by some visitors.

The Gulf country, which is home to some three million people, expected an additional 1.2 million fans to fly in for the tournament that starts on Sunday.

After Friday prayers, the talk of the capital Doha became the government’s sudden statement stop all beer sales in stadiums.

Many welcomed the decision in the country, where beer, wine and spirits are sold in discreet hotel bars.

Abdullah, an Egyptian resident of Qatar, said he would feel more comfortable attending matches knowing that beer would not be available in the stadiums.

“I am happy to hear this news. It is not that alcohol is not sold in Qatar. People should respect the Muslim culture and continue with the tournament. I will feel much better if I go to the stadium with my family now. We support Brazil,” he told Al Jazeera.

FIFA World Cup, Doha, Qatar 2022, Football [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]
Fans draped in flags continued to pour into Qatar in the run-up to the World Cup [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Federico Ferraz, a fan group organizer from Portugal, said the timing of the decision to ban alcohol in the stadiums was taken too late.

“I think FIFA and Qatar made it very late to announce this decision. They waited until the last minute, for everyone to buy tickets, book hotels and then they announced it. Were they afraid fans wouldn’t be here if they had banned alcohol before?”

Alcohol will continue to be served in hotels, luxury suites, private homes and on the FIFA Fan Festival grounds during the tournament.

In Doha Souq Waqif marketEcuador’s Pablo Zambrano, 35, shrugged at news of the beer ban ahead of his country’s opening match against Qatar on Sunday.

He was staying with his mother, who lives in Qatar, and said the fridge is already stocked with beer, which foreigners can legally buy from select depots.

“There are things about the alcohol and the women with the dress code,” Zambrano told the Associated Press news agency, referring to the country’s customs. “It’s different. But it’s going to be okay.”

Zambrano was one of a growing number of fans sightseeing in the traditional market and along the Corniche, a seaside boulevard overlooking Doha’s glittering skyline.

Just down the street, 24-year-old vegetable vendor Ajmal Pial of Khulna, Bangladesh, took in the wind as the city’s skyscrapers stretched behind him over the waters of the Persian Gulf.

But instead of his country’s green and red disc flag, Pial waved Brazil’s over his head as his friend snapped photos of him. He and his friends support Argentina and Braziltwo of the tournament favourites.

For Pial and others, the World Cup represents a pinnacle of work in Qatar and likely a final hurray before heading home as jobs may slow down.

Working conditions in Qatar, like many of the Gulf Arab states, have been criticized for exploiting the low-wage workers who have turned the former pearl port into a desert metropolis.

Qatar has revised its labor laws, but activists have called for more. There are no guarantees for freedom of expression in the country, but Pial said he was genuinely happy for the chance to see the tournament.

His friend, 32-year-old Shobuz Sardar, also from Khulna, Bangladesh, said part of that excitement came from it being only the second time an Asian country has hosted the World Cup, 20 years after Japan and South Korea cooperate. – host of the tournament.

He also said the tournament provided a rare opportunity to celebrate.

“You also know that there are all too many people here for work, for jobs,” Sardar said. “They don’t have any opportunity to have fun. This World Cup makes sure they have fun.”

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