how qatar recruited supporters

how qatar recruited supporters

Paris (AFP) – Hotel nights, match tickets, prepaid Visa cards… The World Cup 2022 organizing committee has invited hundreds of supporters from all over the world to Qatar, encouraging them to post positive comments about the host country. An offer refused by some, embarrassed by the process.

Several testimonies and documents consulted by AFP highlight the details of a massive communication operation aimed at fans, started two years ago by the organizers of the event.

Bloggers, influencers, active supporters, heads of associations… From 2020, many people are canvassed as part of an official program which offers them to become “Fan Leaders”, a sort of representative of the Mondial-2022 with supporters and spokespersons for the fans with the organisers.

“They wanted us to promote themselves by becoming the influencers of French supporters, to sell them this World Cup in Qatar”, explains to AFP Fabien Bonnel, spokesperson for the Irresistibles Français, a group of supporters contacted in 2021.

“We immediately refused, choking on reading the document. We had to use social networks to promote this World Cup in Qatar,” he said.

“Not appropriate to disparage”

If such an operation is not unusual in major sporting and cultural events, it arouses unease among European supporters. “One thing is certain, many have refused” these proposals “very far from the culture of supporterism”, assures Ronan Evain, of the Football Supporters Europe (FSE) network.

But others are getting into the game, “mainly Tik Tok influencers and others,” he says.

More than 450 fans from 59 nations have collaborated, explains the organizing committee, assuring that it is not an “illegal scheme, consisting in paying guest supporters in exchange for coordinated promotion”.

This is a “voluntary and unpaid role”, “without any obligation to share content provided by the committee”, he insists.

But the code of conduct signed by these “Fan Leaders”, of which AFP obtained a copy, still poses some “good principles of publication” to be respected on social networks.

“Your opinions are your own,” the document says, but “it would obviously not be appropriate to denigrate Qatar, the organizing committee or the World Cup,” it said.

A good “Fan Leader” must also “report”, “capture” then “delete” any comment “offensive, degrading or abusive” towards the organizing committee that emanates from his audience.

In exchange, Qatar offers these “Super Fans” many advantages, according to a canvassing document: “tickets for matches and events”, “gifts”, stadium visits and other invitations, as in the draw in April.

“We followed those who went there on the networks: they showed all the wonders of Qatar. It was the promotion of Qatar, not the World Cup”, estimates Fabien Bonnel.

“Sing” in front of the cameras

With this vast network of supporters-influencers, the committee has launched in recent weeks another wave of invitations: between 30 and 50 fans per qualified nation, handpicked by these “Fan Leaders” (“a small selection of supporters”, according to the organizers), are invited, all expenses paid, for the opening ceremony on November 20. Again, many refuse.

A restaurant adorned with flags of countries qualified for the World Cup in Qatar, in a market in Doha, November 3, 2022 GABRIEL BOUYS AFP

The committee also recalls here that the guests come “on a voluntary basis and without remuneration” and ensures that it is a question of “thanking them for their collaboration”.

But, in a document sent to these delegations of guests, it is also a question of involving them in the scripting of the opening ceremony.

“You will be expected to stand up, sing, wave your flags” as the cameras pass, it says. The committee also plans to select the song assigned to each nation before sharing it with the delegations, “to ensure that it is familiar to you”.

$68 per day

In return, the round-trip plane ticket is paid, as is accommodation, in “apartments” equipped with “double rooms”, specifies the document. “68 dollars a day will be provided” to each guest for “food, drinks, laundry”, by means of a “prepaid Visa card”, distributed at the same time as the ticket for the opening match.

Khalifa Stadium in Doha, one of the World Cup venues, October 29, 2022
Khalifa Stadium in Doha, one of the World Cup venues, October 29, 2022 Gabriel BOUYS AFP/Archives

“Given the prices, the distance and the unease around this World Cup, the type of supporters will not be the same as in a classic World Cup. We must therefore try to bring them to the stadiums”, analyzes a source close to the French Football Federation (FFF). “I think they need colors at the opening ceremony, supporters with shirts. Well filmed, it can have an effect”.

Several supporters assured AFP that these invitations went beyond the framework of the opening match: “The organizing committee asks them to go there for at least ten days”, assures Hervé Mougin, president of the Irresistibles Français.

These invitations cause an outcry. “I find that you have to be damn straight in your boots to accept and then dare to say, behind: + I know all the problems there are but I let myself be rinsed anyway +”, believes Fabien Bonnel.

Another supporter active on a European scale having taken part in several meetings with the organizers continues: “They buy the supporters, it is their plan of action. We have passed a course, it is just ridiculous. It is not so not the image of the supporters we want to represent. Money is not everything”.