“Fyre Festival 2.0”: Fans slam temporary shelters and metal boxes at the World Cup in Qatar
AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) – For many foreign soccer fans, the road to the World Cup in Doha begins each morning at a barren campsite in the middle of the desert.
Visitors finding hotels in central Doha booked up or well over their budget have opted for the far-flung, dusty tented village of Al Khor, where there are no tent locks or draft beer.
Others just wanted an adventure. On Wednesday, a DJ played electronic dance music around a fire pit as a few fans sat on beanbags, sipped sodas and gazed at large screens about an hour from Doha.
“I’m here because I couldn’t find anywhere else,” said Haidar Haji, a 27-year-old architectural engineer from Kuwait. He said it was arduous to march from the tent village to Doha every morning, but he had no other choice. “The hotels were simply too expensive. It was crazy.”
Visitors finding hotels in central Doha booked up or well over their budget have opted for the far-flung, dusty tented village of Al Khor, where there are no locks on tents and beer on tap.
Still, the Al Khor fan village doesn’t come cheap. Haji said he’s paying $450 a night for his meager temporary accommodation, which authorities are touting as “the perfect destination for a really comfortable and lavish stay.” The tents are equipped with sanitary facilities and simple furniture. The site features a swimming pool and a fine Arabic restaurant.
From the moment Qatar was named host of the World Cup, fears grew as to how the small country would accommodate the massive influx of 1.2 million fans – almost a third of the population.
Qatar’s rapid construction program has delivered tens of thousands of rooms through new hotels, rental apartments and even three giant cruise ships. But rising prices have forced many thrifty fans into remote desert campgrounds and huge fan villages on the outskirts of Doha, including one near the airport made up of corrugated box storage.
At Al Khor Village, many fans complained about the isolation and lack of alcohol. “Honestly, you can find more alcohol in Tehran,” said Parisa, a 42-year-old Iranian oil worker, who declined to give her last name, citing the political situation in Iran. She stared into space in the common area of the campsite and said she had little idea how to spend her time. The chic hotel bars of Doha were miles away. “We thought they would open up more to foreigners to have fun.”
Paola Bernal, from Tabasco, southern Mexico, wasn’t sure what to expect from the inaugural World Cup in the Middle East. But she said she was surprised at how long it takes to traverse the world’s smallest host country. Buses from the campsite are a “mess,” she said, and stop running at 10 p.m., forcing fans to spend large sums on Uber rides.
“There are such long distances, I don’t know how,” she said. Although some stadiums are connected to Doha’s shiny new metro network, they often have to be a 2.5km walk from the train stations. Other sites are only accessible by bus, with some stops just a stroll from the stadium gates – and sought-after bars and restaurants even further afield.
The arid terrain of Al Khor is no paradise for selfies. But Nathan Thomas, a site designer, said he was very pleased with the “authentic Arabic” result. The only major concern, he said, is safety. Not every tent is within sight of a sentry post. Tents do not have locks. Their flaps come off easily.
“We keep telling people it’s a safe country, don’t worry,” he said.
From the Free Zone Fan Village in the desert south of Doha, fans lugged suitcases across large artificial turf pitches under the glare of the stadium’s lights.
The manufactured cabins are some of the cheapest accommodation available, starting at around $200 per night. Every few minutes, low-flying aircraft thunder over the village to the old airport, which has reopened to handle daily shuttle flights to the tournament. Banners placed on the trailers urge fans to say “cheer up”.
Just days before the tournament, social media was filled with images of toilets yet to be installed and cables still coiled on the ground to connect water and electricity.
Many complained about excessively long waiting times at check-in. A crowd of guests waiting in line Wednesday night said they couldn’t get their rooms because the front desk wasn’t sure who had already checked out. “We wanted good vibes, good energy to be with other people,” said Mouman Alani from Morocco. “It’s very disorganized.”
One camper blasted the site on Twitter as “Fyre Festival 2.0,” referring to an infamous music festival billed as a luxury vacation where fans sought makeshift shelter on a dark beach.
“When we went to our room, everything was a mess,” said Aman Mohammed, a 23-year-old from Kolkata, India, in the common area on Wednesday. He said he waited two hours in the scorching sun the day before for a cleaner to arrive. “It smelled like a bad bathroom. It was pathetic.”
But, he stressed, there is no such thing as false advertising.
The website shows dozens of brightly colored metal crates next to each other on a vast, dusty lot. And despite his disappointment, he said the World Cup was ultimately about football.
“(Cristiano) Ronaldo is playing his last World Cup, I’m just here to see him,” said Mohammed, referring to the superstar who is representing Portugal at the tournament. “Being there has been a dream of mine since I was a child.”
Associated Press reporter Jon Gambrell in Doha contributed to this report.