Doha, Qatar (CNN) — The accommodation is in tents or prefabs, there’s no beer in the stadiums, the temperatures are uncomfortably hot and the whole event is mired in controversy over alleged human rights abuses.
While that’s not enough to deter hardcore football fans from traveling to Qatar to support their national teams in the World Cup, more surprisingly, it hasn’t been enough to deter even those whose country teams aren’t even in the competition.
Walk around the narrow streets of downtown Doha and you can’t help but get caught up in World Cup fever, with fans from all four corners of the globe meeting in squares and restaurants to celebrate their cultures with one another.
The evenings are particularly busy, with groups gathering together by country, singing their hearts out to the seemingly constant rhythm of drums that reverberate through downtown Doha.
One of the loudest groups in the days running up to kickoff was a pocket of England fans from India.
The group is fully coordinated, wearing the same shirt with the name of England captain Harry Kane on the back. They proudly sing songs associated with the English national team but they mix them with traditional chants from back home.
‘Football is our life’
Doha’s Souq Waqif marketplace has become hub of fan activity.
DOHA, QATAR – NOVEMBER 17: Uruguay fans roam the streets with flags and scarves ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at Souq Waqif on November 17, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Qatar 2022 organizers, as well as FIFA, rubbished the claims and a member of the group told CNN that he was surprised to see the headlines.
“We are a fan group from Kerala, in South India,” he said, too busy singing and dancing to give his full name.
“India is not in the tournament and we have always loved England. We used to watch David Beckham play so we are passionate about England in Qatar.”
These fans are representative of a wider theme of Qatar 2022, which has allowed many to get a taste of World Cup action.
“I’m here because it’s a good opportunity and it’s very close to our country,” he said. “In 2018, the World Cup [in Russia] was too far from our country but now we feel the World Cup is in our home.”
“In the Middle East we always watch football. Football is our life.”
Ali Abbadi, like many others in Doha, will be supporting Argentina at Qatar 2022.
The 35-year-old was proudly wearing an Argentina shirt and he’s certainly not alone.
The blue and white colors are by far the most popular in Doha this week and almost all the shirts have the name Messi on the back.
It not only demonstrates the superstar player’s pulling power but also the impact that his current club Paris-Saint Germain has had on the world.
The French side is owned by the Qatar Sports Investment group and posters of its star players, Neymar and Messi, are plastered all around Doha.
But, unlike many who have adopted the South American side for this year’s tournament, it isn’t the reason that Ali is cheering for them.
“I supported Argentina even before Messi. Messi is doing a great job but I supported Argentina for more than 15 years,” he said.
“I watched players like [Gabriel] Batistuta, [Hernán] Crespo, so I hope they win in Qatar.”
It appears you don’t even need to be passionate about a team in order to enjoy the World Cup.
The Leungs are staying in one of the fan villages and will be cheering for the Netherlands.
The scramble for accommodation is likely to hot up given Qatar is set to welcome an estimated 1.5 million fans over the month-long tournament, which begins on November 20.
“This is a really good opportunity to come to a host nation that is smaller than my home city [Beijing],” said Peng, who told CNN he had tickets for 35 matches over the tournament.
“We can have the opportunity to attend so many games, it’s perfect.”
When asked who he’d be supporting at the World Cup, Peng said he had “no real preference” but wanted South Korea and Japan to do well.
“As I’m Asian, I want the Asian teams to do well but I’m just looking forward to seeing good results,” he said.
“Also, I hope China can qualify for the next World Cup in America, that would be so special.”
Only a few doors down from where CNN met Peng, Jimmy and Kennis Leung were getting comfy in their home for the next 16 days.
The couple traveled to Qatar from Hong Kong but, unlike Peng, they very much have a favorite team to support.
Jimmy was dressed in the distinctive orange colors of The Netherlands and says he’s excited to see his adopted team play, despite there being no obvious links with the Dutch side.
“They have great players and history and I just like the team,” he said, beaming. “I want to see all their group games.”
Amid all the criticism of Qatar 2022, the tournament has undoubtedly provided an opportunity for people to enjoy one of the world’s biggest sporting events for the first time.
Organizers will hope these stories go some way in justifying the decision to let the tiny nation of Qatar host a World Cup like no other.
Top image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images