IIn the sweltering heat of Doha’s lunch hour, there was a welcome shiver of relationships—and then, surprisingly, tongues. This came when FIFA launched a world Cup The fanfest is so vast that 40,000 supporters will soon be able to gather for a joint communion near the promenade: to watch, cheer and drink expensive beer, if only between 7pm and 1am. Maybe even love too.
“It will be a multi-dimensional, festival-like experience,” promised Gerden Lindhout, FIFA’s Head of Marketing and Experiential Promotion. “It’s not just about football, it’s about games, lifestyle and great food. We decided to kick off Doha!”
But shortly thereafter, when Lindhout faced questions from the world’s media, her company rhetoric faded and she sounded more human than a FIFA official had done in decades. When asked about her message to those who want to bring rainbow flags at the fanfest, she smiled. She said, “Go for it.” “This event is all about celebration.”
Dutch women were most emboldened when the tough definition of questions were raised. What would you say, for example, to gay England fans who might be nervous about visiting Qatar for the tournament, which kicks off on Sunday?
She replied, “I’ve been coming here for the past four years and not only have I felt safe, I feel welcome.” “England fans should come here. It will be a life-changing experience.”
Given that Qatar is a place where men can face up to five years in prison under Article 296 of the Qatari Penal Code for “inciting or seducing a male in any way to commit illegal or immoral acts,” and where Human Rights Watch recently described several cases From the LGBT community. A society that was beaten and imprisoned by the authorities, those words sounded like a quiet revolution.
How could they not while the Qatari authorities and FIFA have been circling the issue for over a decade, in what seems to amount to their own version of “don’t ask, don’t tell”?
Was it a case of Lindhout accidentally getting off the letter? Or does he speak in hope more than he expected? Probably. But she was talking specifically about FIFA venues in Qatar, where it appears the authorities will look the other way when it comes to holding hands and kissing.
Certainly when pressed again about what the experience will be like for LGBT fans inside FIFA venues, Lindhout could not be more forthright. “Everyone is welcome, including the LGBTQ+ community,” she said.
“Based on the experience I’ve had, there is no risk. They are welcome to express themselves and their love for their partners. They won’t get into trouble for sharing public displays of affection.”
Admittedly, Lindhout also urged Western fans to find a middle ground between their values and those of the conservative Gulf state, which was certainly more in the script. But she insisted again moments later that the culture in Qatar had changed. She added, “Respect the culture, and use common sense, but nothing is forbidden in the FIFA Fan Festival.” “We are very proud of him.”
In fact, at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, the festival didn’t seem like a place poised to charge up the tourist charts on Tripadvisor. In a media presentation hours before the Michael Jackson tribute act launched a test event to stave off any late-teething issues, it mostly resembled a giant concrete car park with expensive food (a small Greek salad costing £10, a slice of pepperoni pizza £8) and little From escaping from the heat of 32 degrees Celsius.
However, Lindhout dismissed concerns that it would be too hot for fans. “It’s definitely hot, but there are enough areas where there’s shade and we have enough refreshing drinks, so I don’t see a problem,” she said. “People should use their logical minds – and dress appropriately. Put on short shorts, wear something light and enjoy some refreshing drinks.”
England fans will not be disoriented knowing that there is only one beer stall, selling Budweiser for nearly £12 for a 500ml. Or they will face a long line, reminiscent of passport control at a post-Brexit European airport, to buy a maximum of four beers.
However, there appears to be no limit to the amount of beer that can be ordered throughout the night. Which can lead to familiar problems when tensions run high and the booze flows freely.
However, Lindhout claimed that FIFA would try to give some room for fans to enjoy themselves while others remained safe. “We want an experience for all fans, but safety is important,” she added. “I think we’ll be fine with the security measures in place.”
On the plus side, fans will also be able to see the World Cup and Jules Rimet at the FIFA Museum near the giant screen that will show the games, as well as a collection of famous shirts, including Roger Hunt from England’s 1966 World Cup victory and Diego Maradona from the 1986 friendly.
And as the sun begins to set, and 20,000 locals begin to flock to see the Michael Jackson imitation belt out the blows, it’s starting to look like a real event. Not everyone is convinced, mind. When The Guardian posted pictures of the venue on social media many users thought: “This World Cup will be Fyre Festival and Woodstock 99 in one”.
However, Made Al-Emadi, who is in charge of the fan fest, is confident it will be a smashing success. “We’ve waited 12 years for this, and we’re so happy to see all this happen,” he said. “People here will enjoy watching the live matches with the best view of the Doha skyline. This will be the best festival in the history of the World Cup.”
Probably. But that will depend on what happens inside this cavernous 300,000 square meter space in the next month – and this, unfortunately, remains an open question.