If first impressions are anything to go by, Qatar is ready to host the world. And is excited about it. “Every day, something new is being opened. When I was young, football was followed by boys and men of a certain age. But now mothers, grandmothers and a lot of women are interested. You will see many of them at stadiums,” said a man who worked at the Hamad International Airport, one which has an orchid garden inside, here on Thursday.
The man did not want to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media but said even though he was used to seeing people from all over the world, “never have they hit the arrivals area dancing with drums and cymbals and looking this happy.”
“You are from India and so you would have an idea of countries in west Asia,” he said. “But for most of the world, the idea of these countries is based on what they read and hear. So, we are saying, ‘come and see for yourself.’ I am sure you will go back with a better impression. And, yes, alcohol is available in designated areas. Also, you can visit the beach something Europeans and Americans can’t at home now,” he said.
The man was speaking after an animated conversation in Arabic with two colleagues but a reference to “Griezmann” meant it wasn’t office politics they were discussing. “We were talking about how happy some players said they were on social media after reaching Doha,” he said.
The World Cup seems to have made a gloomy place happy, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski wrote in ‘Soccereconomics’ referring to a place in Berlin after the 2006 edition. Germany, they said, reported a “significant uptick in self-reported happiness.” It was what English scriptwriter Arthur Hopcraft termed “communal exuberance” referring to England after 1966. It is what seems to be happening in Qatar, a country connecting over an event.
After a Qatar Airways flight where everything from pillows to headphones had World Cup branding, videos of Paolo Rossi and Marco Tardelli from 1982 were available and, of course, scenes from December 2, 2010, when Sepp Blatter opened an envelope and said “Qatar”, immigration happened at Usain Bolt speed.
“Hayya card holders this side please,” said an officer. Those with the card that serves as visa and will open many, if not all, doors here gratis –bus and metro rides and SIM card – were ushered to a corner that had rows of machine-controlled contraption that scanned passport and took a picture. And in less than two minutes, you were by the baggage carousel. Some 10 minutes after deplaning, you were ready for a first-hand experience of the city hosting the 22nd World Cup finals from Sunday. Usually with an airport assistant designated to help hail a cab.
Jose and Lisy were waiting for a friend to arrive from Berlin before they did that. The Mexican couple from Monterrey had taken a red-eye from Dubai to be at their first World Cup. It wasn’t cheap – Jose said he spent $950 each for three match tickets – but they were not complaining. Neither was the airport staff referred to earlier. “Couldn’t find tickets FIFA has sold at a cheaper rate to people of Qatar. So, I bought tickets for Sunday’s Qatar-Ecuador game for 1600 riyals (around $440),” he said.
The Mexicans said they would be here till December 4. “If Mexico make it to the round of 16, we will watch the game and go but the group looks tough (they are in group C with Poland, Argentina and Saudi Arabia) and Mexico haven’t been very good recently,” said Jose. At our lodgings in Al Wakra industrial area, Joao from Sao Paulo said he had 22 match tickets and will be here till December 20.
With every third person speaking Hindi, Bengali or Malayalam, and right down to flies in a restaurant in Al Wakra run by people from Kerala, this is also the most at home Indians will feel at any World Cup. There are more than 750,000 Indians in Qatar and over 400,000 from Bangladesh. FM stations in taxis play Hindi songs and the weather feels like an Indian summer.