Inside the bizarre World Cup in Qatar as English fans face £13, swearing ban and sleepovers nights in ‘city of caravans’

After tasting every last drop of your £13 beer at Champions Qatar Bar, it’s time to play.

With less than 100 days to go until the World Cup kicks off, I was headed to the air-conditioned Khalifa International Stadium, where England will face Iran in their opening match on November 21.

Oliver Harvey inside the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar where England will play Iran on November 21


Oliver Harvey inside the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar where England will play Iran on November 21Credit: Lewis Wood
Oliver reveals that less than 100 days before kick-off,


Oliver reveals that less than 100 days before kick-off, “cultural differences with the West have come into sharp focus”, Pictured: World Cupcredit: Getty

Taking Doha’s lavish subway to a 45,416-seat plaza, cultural differences with the West come into sharp focus.

One of the locals drove me away from a central wagon and explained that single men were forbidden from it.

In the metro here there are three categories – standard: family, for women, children and accompanying men; A lavishly upholstered gold.

Drinking alcohol is prohibited in public places – except for upscale hotels and restaurants – so catering to the little ones on their way to the match is over. This is also a land where vapes are forbidden and obscene gestures and swearing can lead to people falling behind bars.

Fatima Al-Nuaimi – from the Supreme Committee for the World Cup told me: “We ask people to respect the local culture.”

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England kick-off times have been revealed and there is a big change in the opening match

So how will this small desert kingdom, the size of Yorkshire, deal with as many as 1.3 million passionate football fans arriving in three months?

To find out, I spent this week in Qatar, at road test facilities and barbecue organizers in a country whose poor human rights record remains under scrutiny.

Walking through treacle

The mock run to Khalifa – with local teams Umm Salal and Al Sadd playing in a 1-1 draw – suggests that transportation and stadiums will outshine many of the previous World Cups.

Entering the metro in downtown Doha, security men in white shirts and dark trousers gather around giant air conditioning units to beat the August heat.

Outside, it was 42°C (November temperatures should dip into the mid to high 20s) with so much humidity that every step is like walking through lions.

The temperature inside the ground was 26 degrees Celsius, as 500 nozzles pumped out cold air.

Earlier I had visited a NASA World Cup-like center where banks of remote internet workers monitor all eight World Cup stadiums.

Chief Technology Officer Nias Abdel Rahim explained that the temperature inside the stadiums can be adjusted according to the size of the crowd.

He revealed that the fans will be monitored like Big Brother, with 15,000 cameras inside the stadiums and more in the fan areas. Standing in front of a bank of computers and monitors, Nias said anyone misbehaving could be identified.

We have special high-definition cameras to enlarge a specific seat and see the spectator clearly.

Head of Technology Department Nias Abdel Rahim

He revealed, “We have special high-resolution cameras to zoom in on a specific seat and clearly see the spectator. It is being recorded, so this will help us in any investigation after the event.”

Drinking wine in public is prohibited, here Oliver drinks £13 of beer at Champions Bar


Drinking wine in public is prohibited, here Oliver drinks £13 of beer at Champions BarCredit: Lewis Wood
Oliver, who is traveling in Gold Class on the new Doha metro system, says:


Oliver, who travels in Gold Class on Doha’s new metro system, says: “The metro here has three classes – Standard, Gold, and lavishly upholstered.”Credit: Lewis Wood
While visiting the tourist spots in the desert of Qatar, fans of England can try camel riding and carrying a falcon


While visiting the tourist spots in the desert of Qatar, fans of England can try camel riding and carrying a falconCredit: Lewis Wood

No decision on Covid rules for the World Cup has been announced. Masks are currently being worn in public and travelers in the UK need to get a negative PCR test before the flight.

Qatar has yet to confirm its plans to consume alcohol, with the Supreme Committee Fatima Al-Nuaimi saying alcoholic beverages will be available “in designated areas”.

She added that events such as the country’s Club World Cup in 2019 – which Liverpool won – have proven successful as an empirical example. “We were greeted by Liverpool fans in the fan zone which was serving alcohol before and after the match,” she said.

The prices of alcoholic beverages in licensed bars and restaurants in Qatar will not be repeated in fan zones. A source on the organizing committee confirmed to me that backers will be able to get a pint for £5.

Brilliant Doha – a city of steel and glass emerging from the desert – will host a giant World Cup party on its four-mile waterfront promenade.

It is rumored that men of England are staying on a luxury cruise ship moored in the warm waters of the Gulf, where they can enjoy a glass of champagne.

The other two halves will be checked in at the five-star Souq Al Wakrah Dry Beach Resort, ten miles off the coast. When I visited this week, the attentive staff offered a golf cart ride from the reception to the hotel’s decent restaurant to beat the scorching heat.

Mutton couscous cooked in a clay pot is £15 while signature drinks include How Bazaar-based tomato juice, which is a steal at £7.

England coach Gareth Southgate has chosen a location that will immerse his players in local life.

two camels

While downtown Doha resembles London’s Canary Wharf in a sandstorm, the low-rises of Al Wakrah’s honey-coloured streets have a Middle Eastern charm.

Adjacent to the hotel rises the minaret of a mosque and there is a children’s park complete with two camels that would be irresistible when photographing in England. Across from the hotel, a seaside walkway leads to a tangle of shops and cafes at the market or street market.

The rear of the hotel opens directly onto the golden sands and jagged waves of the Arabian Gulf.

Wells will be staying at the new five-star Delta City Center hotel, which is scheduled to open in October. Fans can experience their own special Arabian Nights, sleeping in beachfront campgrounds.

I took a hair-raising 4×4 dune bashing south of Doha, where Bedouins wait for camel rides and falcon shows. At Regency Sealine Campground, luxury tents hug the beach. Weekday fares start at around £190.

I later meet Omar Al Jaber, whose mission is to find accommodation for over a million visiting World Cup fans. He revealed a “mobile city” – which costs around £120 a night per mobile home – is being built in central Doha to help withstand the pressure.

Omar insists that plenty of accommodation is still available for British fans yet to make a reservation, the cheapest being apartments near South Stadium for less than £70 a night.

Other options include Portakabin-style buildings priced at £170 per night, and two luxury cruise ships – the MSC Poesia and the MSC World Europa – which will dock at the Grand Terminal in Doha.

Liners feature pools, spas and a range of restaurants, with prices starting at around £150 per night. England fan Brian Wright and four of his friends booked 22 nights on a cruise ship.

“We booked ahead of the draw and only pay £60 a night,” said Bryan, 51, who has made more than 370 appearances for three Lions and is heading for his eighth World Cup appearance.

We booked before check out and only pay £60 a night.

England Outstanding Brian Wright

UK fans will need to learn about the local customs and laws in a conservative Muslim country.

Brian, a Coventry City fan, added: “Whatever country I’m visiting, I respect and abide by its laws. It won’t stop me from having a good time full of blood.”

Scanners at Doha airport detect anyone trying to sneak wine or drugs into the country.

Qatar is really not a place where you want to fall under the law. The US State Department said there were 375 court-ordered floggings, for various crimes, in 2019.

The last known Briton to receive the punishment was Gavin Sherard Smith, of Cheltenham, Glock. He was flogged 50 times with a bamboo cane in 1993 after being convicted of selling alcohol to a Muslim.

Gavin, who denied the charges, said, “The last 10 strokes were a bloody torment. I thought I was going to pass out.”

The Qatari organizers assured me that everyone is welcome at the tournament – yet the LGBTQ+ Travel Safety Index ranks the country 190th in the world.

Homosexuality is illegal here and is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Some Wales staff, as well as members of the Rainbow Wall – the official LGBTQ+ fan group – will boycott the tournament due to the country’s stance on gay rights.

Built on sweat and blood

Organizing committee member Nasser El Khoury told me: “When it comes to LGBT people, everyone is welcome as long as there are restrictions around the PDA (public displays of affection).

There are things that are culturally acceptable and things that are not. Everyone is welcome to the World Cup.”

Public intimacy between any couple, regardless of gender, can lead to arrest.

The shiny stadiums and other infrastructure that rose from the sand was built on the sweat – and sometimes blood – of an army of sometimes mistreated migrant workers.

Qataris say they have responded by improving health and safety and reforming migrant labor laws.

Spokeswoman Fatima Al-Nuaimi said the changes “will be the real social legacy that the World Cup will leave.”

I'm angry after a neighbor put a 20-foot ' roller coaster' at the bottom of our garden
I'm forced to fill my fish pond because my curious neighbors complain

As the sun sets below the horizon, Doha sparkles in a kaleidoscope of lights and vines.

The World Cup in the Desert is sure to be a tournament like no other.

England fans can stay at portacabins in Doha during the World Cup


England fans can stay at portacabins in Doha during the World CupCredit: Lewis Wood
Oliver managed to get into the changing room that England will be preparing for before the match


Oliver managed to get into the changing room that England will be preparing for before the matchCredit: Lewis Wood

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