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As the Qatar 2022 World Cup approaches, thousands of tourists and fans from all over the world plan to attend to enjoy the great sports festival that brings the sport’s best teams together. However, the trip to the Middle East can become a big headache for those who have no idea that this particular World Cup will be completely different from the other 21 that have been held.
Until now, the World Cups organized by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) have been characterized by being completely festive scenarios, starring tourists who save up for months to not only enjoy the matches and cheer their countries but also to enjoy the activities outside the stadiums, with bars, discos or nightclubs. But such celebrations, so customary in the West and other parts of the world, are in many cases completely forbidden in the United Arab Emirates.
Past Controversies of World Cups
This World Cup, even before it has begun, has already condensed several controversies that make it one of the most questionable sports tournaments in history: the exploitation and death of workers who labored in the venues, the imprisonment of journalists who investigated the works for the World Cup, or the sentence of 100 lashes by the Qatari authorities against a Mexican woman who denounced sexual abuse by her boss.
A lot of information has emerged about what will and will not be allowed during this great sporting event. Is it true that alcohol cannot be consumed in Qatar, will the hotels not host unmarried couples, and are the dress codes as strict as they are said to be?
To answer all these questions, El American contacted journalists who have already visited Qatar before the World Cup, especially to cover the recent playoff matches, and they assured that what happened during those qualifiers could be replicated in November 2022, when the big event starts.
‘Ehteraz’: The Must-have App for Traveling to Qatar
Talía Azcárate, renowned Peruvian journalist and Directv Sports analyst, traveled to Qatar to cover the playoff match between her country and Australia. While there, she was able to observe how the Qatari authorities could perform in front of a public that is not used to the Arab culture.
In an interview for El American, Azcárate pointed out that the most important thing to be able to enter the country and enjoy the World Cup is to have the Ehteraz; a kind of permit issued by the United Arab Emirates through an official governmental app that enables you to enter the nation and enjoy the event.
“I saw entire families who could not enter because of the Ehteraz, which is a form that Qatar asks you to fill out, where there are details such as vaccination cards, boarding passes and some other requirements,” she explained.
To obtain final permission, foreigners traveling to Qatar must pre-register on the Qatari government website where a form must be completed with their nationality, email, password, and native language.
This step is important to be done in advance because you will later receive a verification email that takes between 5 and 8 hours, and only after that can you enter the web page to upload the hotel reservation where you will stay, the reason for the trip, the PCR test for COVID-19 that must be negative and the vaccination certificate.
Qatar’s Dress Codes
Regarding dress, the journalist explained that although neither shoulders nor knees should be shown out of respect for the country’s culture, the vast majority of tourists did not comply and yet the authorities said nothing.
“I always covered my shoulders and knees as a matter of respect, but the people from the West who went did not and no one said anything. I think that this breaks the myth that during the World Cup an excessively hard or rigid culture will be established. Perhaps they have adapted because of the World Cup, either for the playoffs that have already passed or for the World Cup, I think it will be replicated without any doubt”, she said.
On the other hand, Azcárate mentioned other aspects where the authorities are indeed much stricter: “Couples cannot have public displays of affection and I understand that they cannot have relations outside marriage either,” she said, adding that in that country, by law, each man can have four wives.
Islamic Rules Against Same-Sex and Unmarried Couples
Recently, the Daily Star tabloid reported that having sex in Qatar with someone who is not your spouse can be punishable by up to 7 years in prison. However, it is still unclear how Qatari authorities will regulate or enforce the law. Traditionally, according to local news reports and Internet discussion forums, there are Qatari hotels that require proof of marriage from couples in order to accommodate them. However, many of the hotels are flexible with foreigners.
Last May, Reuters reported that according to the contracts signed, the hotels recommended by FIFA for the World Cup in Qatar, must host tourists without any discrimination or else they could suffer the termination of the contractual agreement.
However, according to a report by the Norwegian news agency NRK, one of the media that has covered the controversial laws of Qatar as a World Cup venue, some hotels in the Arab country are denying accommodation to homosexual couples despite the fact that FIFA stated that absolutely everyone is welcome in Qatar and that a protocol was created for there to be no discrimination during the World Cup.
Banning Alcohol in Public Spaces
The Peruvian journalist also confirmed that drinking alcohol during the World Cup will be practically an impossible mission since the consumption of alcoholic beverages in public places is prohibited.
“You cannot drink in the street, in fact, people who are residents and want to drink, have to ask for a permit from the State to be able to buy alcohol. There is no restaurant that sells you alcohol, only hotels do and a beer costs about $13,” she said.
In addition to the above, in Qatar, there is a “zero tolerance” policy for certain aspects, such as shouting in the street or behaving disrespectfully. These behaviors are punishable by deportation or imprisonment.
It is unknown whether the authorities will allow any kind of public celebration to pass as they did in the case of the dress code during the playoffs; after all, it is the World Cup and most fans go with the purpose of celebrating.
In South America, fans are used to soccer chants accompanied by drums and instrumental pieces. In Europe, there are also the English hooligans, known for unleashing street parties and sometimes enjoying their World Cup “vacations” with large quantities of alcohol.
For example, it is very difficult to imagine a World Cup without thousands of Argentine fans singing, jumping and shouting in the streets with their soccer songs brought from the heart of South America. Undoubtedly this adds color to the atmosphere of the tournament, however, in Qatar this kind of displays are not well regarded. What will happen with this kind of cultural shock?
How Will the Culture Clash in Qatar 2022 Affect the Enjoyment of the Tournament?
Nahuel Lanzón, an Argentine journalist specializing in soccer in countries outside the West, talked to El American and explained where the main points of conflict between different cultures could be, and why there are still many doubts about how the authorities will act in everyday situations such as public displays of affection during the tournament, or celebrations in the streets.
“It’s the big question we all ask ourselves [whether the authorities will be tough on foreigners]. Nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen, because, at a certain point, they don’t have it defined either. You’re going to see official statements sometimes contradicting each other, on the one hand wanting to soften these issues [the strict laws], and on the other affirming them,” Lanzón tells El American. “It seems to me that it is something that we are going to find out as the World Cup evolves and with the acts punishable by Qatari law that occur.”
For Lanzón, this is a unique tournament, because, in the entire history of World Cups, there has never been a clash of worldviews and cultures like the one that will take place in Qatar. Nor have there ever been laws as severe as those in the Arab country.
“Although they were not as strict, in the last World Cup, Russia did have several laws, for example against sexual diversity. But I think it is still not comparable because they are two very different countries in every way. At the World Cup level, I think that the cultural clash that is going to take place in Qatar has never happened in the history of the tournament. Not even with the World Cup in South Africa,” he said.
Because of all these factors, the international press, fans, organizations, and analysts have predicted that Qatar 2022 could be the most controversial World Cup in history and perhaps the least enjoyed by fans there. However, there is still the main event, the tournament itself, which can still hold joys for soccer fans around the globe and should not be affected by the strict Qatari laws.
“If we talk about what happens in the stadium and on a soccer field, I think that in strictly sporting terms it will be a great World Cup,” said Lanzón on whether Qatar is a venue that overshadows the World Cup party and the enjoyment of the tournament.
“Now, in terms of everything surrounding the World Cup and the ‘experience’ of being there, it’s going to be different. No doubt about it. And with a lot of controversy as well. I think that what will end up happening is that there will be ‘zones’ or ‘moments’ where the local authorities may consciously ignore what is happening; I still think that it will be very discretionary on the part of the Qatari authorities,” the journalist concluded.
It remains to be seen what will happen when the World Cup kicks off on November 21 and how the country’s authorities will react to the Western customs arriving – all of a sudden – in that country.