With thousands of seats left empty in early World Cup games, as well as mounting allegations of ‘fake’ fans being paid to fill the streets of Doha, crowds in Qatar are once again underwhelmed. the spotlight.
Investigating allegations of fake fans in Doha, the BBC found that dedicated supporters from many countries received free flights and accommodation in return for posting positive claims about the tournament on social media, as well as the obligation to like and share other documents online.
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“Fake” fans in the street
As the first game approached, hundreds of fans waving flags from countries around the world were seen singing in the streets of Doha.
But in response to clips posted to official World Cup social media accounts, some people wondered why so many fans appeared to be of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, despite supporting many teams. of the whole world.
“Are they paid to be fans of other countries or what?” declares an answer.
Reporting from Doha, the BBC spoke to a Qatari resident, Aaron Fernandes, whose family heritage is from India. Aaron says these comments reflect a broader misunderstanding of the region. With so many migrants adopting Qatar as their home, he replied, why wouldn’t the country be filled with football fans supporting different international teams?
“We have many Indian fans who love football and I’m happy that this FIFA World Cup has highlighted how much Indians love football,” Aaron said.
He added that while South Asia is famous for its love of cricket, a large portion of sports fans in the region also love football. And since countries like India have never participated in a World Cup, these fans often choose to support other nations and travel abroad to see them play.
Aaron is also a member of two fan clubs: the Fifa Fan Movement and the Qatar Fan Leader scheme. These groups were created and are managed by Fifa and the 2022 World Cup Organizing Committee.
When asked if he had to sign a deal under the Fan Leader program, Aaron answered uncertainly:
“Of course there are responsibilities, but it’s the sport that comes first. They’ve been doing this for years. It’s not a big deal.”
Free flights and hotels
Despite Aaron’s ambiguous response, the BBC has learned that many members of the Fan Leader program were asked to sign contacts while receiving incentives from tournament organizers.
Documents seen by the BBC, as well as the testimony of several officials of the organization, confirmed that many foreign fans were offered free flights to Qatar and accommodation under an initiative which, according to the organisers, aimed to better “shape the fan experience”.
In return, supporters were asked to sign a code of conduct pledging to “incorporate Supreme Committee content into their posts where appropriate” and to like and share third-party materials.
The Supreme Committee is the organizing body for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
The agreement states that fans are not meant to be “spokespeople for Qatar”, but should not “disparage the Qatar Supreme Committee” or the “Qatar 2022 World Cup”.
Belgian Football Federation press officer Pierre Cornez says fans also received “a free ticket for the first game and the opening ceremony.”
He clarified that the offer was not made only to Belgian fans but to “all the countries that play in this World Cup.”
He also clarifies that not all the supporters who took part in the operation ended up signing the agreement.
The decision to award the World Cup to Qatar has been repeatedly criticized due to the country’s poor record on workers’ rights, LGBTQ+ rights and freedom of expression. Therefore, some independent and grassroots fan clubs believe that the Qatar Fan Leader program is just an attempt to improve the image of the tournament.
Fan Supporters Europe board member Martha Gens says she has never heard of such a system being used before in a major tournament.
“It’s not a fan movement, it’s a fan fraud,” says Martha. “It’s weird, it’s shady and it’s not right.”
However, the Supreme Committee (SC) defended the device, saying:
“This initiative has helped the SC understand the needs and concerns of fans from 59 different countries.
“They are under no obligation to post or share any content. All fans who visit Qatar as guests do so voluntarily and without compensation.”