DOHA, QATAR — On Saturday evening, on the pristine streets of Souq Waqif in Doha, somewhere in the middle of the incense burners and the spice merchants and the squawking aviaries, something approximating a World Cup at last began to take shape.
Restaurants had been decked out in the flags of the 32 competing nations. There were shops selling headdresses bearing America’s stars and stripes, the Argentine sun, Brazil’s Ordem e Progresso. And there were hundreds of fans, their colors pinned to their chests or wrapped around their shoulders, mixing and milling and singing and smiling.
It felt, on Saturday, like something had ended: FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s extraordinary, strafing attack on anyone he could think of was a fitting culmination to 12 years of controversy and scandal and recrimination about the fact that soccer’s crown jewel, the biggest sporting event in the world, has been brought here, to this tiny enclave of absurd wealth.
The question now is what comes next. There are tickets still unsold for a fistful of group stage games. The expected influx of fans has not yet started. Barely 48 hours before the first game, Qatar’s authorities decided that — actually — beer would not be sold at stadiums. The goal posts, it turns out, can still shift.
Qatar has spent 12 years preparing itself, and FIFA the same amount of time steeling itself, for this World Cup to begin. What sort of World Cup it will be, though? We are about to find out.
A group of more than 200 migrant laborers hired to work concession stalls at the Qatar World Cup’s opening game said they had been left without food, water and toilet facilities for seven hours while they waited for their assignments.
Standing in front of the Bedouin-tent-shaped Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor, the group were desperately trying to contact their employer without success. Several said they had been asked to report to a facility close to the arena before 10 a.m., nine hours before the game was scheduled to start.
The group, mostly made of men from India, said they had signed contracts to work at the World Cup that guaranteed one meal a day and just under $1,000 for 55 days. “It’s a very bad experience,” said one member of the group. The worker declined to give his name out of fear that it would upset his employers, but added, “Our coordinator told us to come here before 9 a.m. but no one was here.”
The group of concession workers were just a tiny part of the army of low-paid workers Qatar has hired to prepare the country to host the World Cup. The treatment of workers in Qatar and elsewhere in the Gulf has drawn much scrutiny in the yearslong buildup to the event. Human rights groups estimating several thousand migrants have died as a result of injuries, heat-related problems and other health concerns as Qatar embarked on a $200 billion reconstruction to prepare for the one-month tournament. Qatar strongly disputes that total, and notes that it has made reforms to its labor laws.
The concession workers were not the only ones left frustrated under the hot desert sun on Sunday: A group of 20 women from the Philippines, hired to sell scarves, found themselves in a similar situation: Three hours after arriving at the stadium, they had been unable to locate the company that hired them. “We’ve walked so much, this isn’t good,” said one of the women. They, too, were trying to contact representatives of their company without success.
Nov. 20, 2022, 9:12 a.m. ET
Nov. 20, 2022, 9:12 a.m. ETNov. 20, 2022, 9:12 a.m. ET
Reporting from Doha, Qatar
There's an enormous traffic jam on one of the main highways to Al Bayt Stadium. Organizers had asked those who can drive to come by car and have created giant car parks to cater for them.
Nov. 20, 2022, 8:38 a.m. ET
Nov. 20, 2022, 8:38 a.m. ETNov. 20, 2022, 8:38 a.m. ET
Reporting from Doha, Qatar
U.S. Coach Gregg Berhalter provided updates on Sunday about midfielder Weston McKennie and right back Sergino Dest, two presumed starters who were both nursing minor injuries when they arrived in Doha last week. “We see them as being able to take part in the game — for how long, we have to see,” said Berhalter, who said the fact that teams could use five substitutes in this tournament, as opposed to three, would give him more flexibility.
A group of European nations remains committed to a plan for their captains to wear multicolored armbands emblazoned with the words “One Love” during World Cup matches.
The first armbands are expected to appear during all three scheduled matches on Monday, potentially exposing the players and their teams to discipline from FIFA, soccer’s governing body. According to FIFA’s rules for the tournament, uniform violations could result in a fine.
We are uniting with nine other European countries in support of OneLove, a campaign that will use the power of football to promote inclusion and send a message against discrimination.— England (@England) September 21, 2022
The armbands were designed to show support for minority groups amid ongoing concerns about Qatar’s treatment of the L.G.B.T.Q. community, where homosexuality is a crime.
The teams’ plans to wear them in games are in defiance of FIFA’s strict regulations on team uniforms, and talks aimed at reaching a resolution, or a compromise, have been unsuccessful. Three European teams planning to wear armbands on Monday: England, wales and Netherlands.
FIFA has been urging the teams to adhere to its uniform rules but there is little sign an agreement will happen. An official from England’s delegation familiar with the behind-the-scenes talks said the country remained committed for the captain Harry Kane to wear the anti-discrimination armband when his team plays Iran on Monday.
Nov. 20, 2022, 8:18 a.m. ET
Nov. 20, 2022, 8:18 a.m. ETNov. 20, 2022, 8:18 a.m. ET
Reporting from Doha, Qatar
One day before the United States faces Wales in its opening match of the World Cup, Coach Gregg Berhalter named Tyler Adams as his captain for the tournament. “We think he has great leadership capabilties,” Berhalter said of Adams, 23, a midfielder from Wappinger Falls, N.Y. who plays his club soccer for Leeds in England's Premier League. “He leads by his actions and his words.”
Nov. 20, 2022, 8:03 a.m. ET
Nov. 20, 2022, 8:03 a.m. ETNov. 20, 2022, 8:03 a.m. ET
Reporting from Doha, Qatar
Souq Waqif, Doha’s very deliberately antiquated market, has acted as a magnet for fans arriving in the city ahead of the tournament. Every day it gets just a little busier, a little more lively. There are plenty of Mexico jerseys, an abundance of Moroccan flags, the occasional gaggle of roving Australians, and dozens of camera crews capturing every single one of them. Today, though, it has felt distinctly Ecuadorian, as large groups of fans wearing the country’s bright yellow jersey and waving its tricolor while away the day before the World Cup’s opening game.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino addressed soccer’s national federations on Sunday, telling them hours before the opening game of the Qatar World Cup that the four-year cycle leading to the tournament had generated revenues of $7.5 billion and profits of $1 billion for soccer’s global governing body.
The revenues are $1 billion higher than for the last World Cup in Russia, underlining the enduring appeal — and remarkably cash-generating potency — of the quadrennial event.
Much of FIFA’s income is generated from global television deals for its soccer showpiece, and many of the largest ones for the Qatar World Cup had already been agreed before Infantino took office in 2016. The growing revenues will only strengthen his grip on the presidency, not that it mattered: Last week, FIFA confirmed that he would be unopposed in the next election in March.
After his speech, FIFA’s members and delegates were led to a separate room to collect goody bags and VIP match tickets for the opening game later on Sunday.