Qatar Offered Fans Free World Cup Trips. But There Was a Catch.
When Qatar took the field in a World Cup qualifying match against Qatar on Sept. 3 in a small, makeshift stadium at the Karam Al-Aran stadium in Doha, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and fans rushed the field to catch a glimpse of the stars on the field. For the Qataris, it was an opportunity to represent their nation and a chance to make a statement in front of the Qatari and world publics.
But for the UAE and the fans, it was also a chance to experience the most exciting thing the country would ever offer in its short history—the World Cup.
I spent the entire match with more than 2,500 fans in the stands, in the parking lot and inside the stadium. Outside, the UAE security kept everyone well-shaded from the blazing sun—except for the Qataris, who came out to welcome all of their fans with a raucous chant and a waving of flags.
As we rushed down the stairs of the Karam tower—where the match was being played—the people in the crowd greeted us with a high-pitched roar. It was an ode to their glorious and proud nation.
In all, it was a crowd that was filled to the brim with Qatar friends, who were there to share a little of their country with the world. The whole experience felt surreal, with the sun going down into the sea of red-and-black-accented Qatari flags and the players on the field dancing through the crowd. The atmosphere was almost more like a carnival than a World Cup qualifier.
That is when I ran into a strange phenomenon—the Qataris and their loyal fans who were cheering the UAE and its players instead of Qatar. The UAE fans were cheering Qatar, but they were cheering the UAE more. For example, the players of the UAE were dancing down the field, but they were dancing to the tune of the Qatari fans who had the best seats in the stadium—in the balcony. There was no disconnection in the UAE-Qatar rivalry; instead, all were united in the love for Qatar.
While the Qatari fans were