The FIFA fan festival was full before Qatar’s World Cup clash with Ecuador which led to chaotic scenes before kick-off of the tournament’s opening match. A lack of police presence meant supporters were allowed to walk virtually to the entrance before being turned away, with overcrowding then ensuing.
The organisation around the start of the Qatar World Cup has been smooth for the most part in Doha, with the hosts putting on a stunning firework show on Saturday night with the eyes of the world watching on. But the FIFA fan festival was full before kick-off on Sunday, with thousands of supporters then consequently turned away.
Walking up to the grand event there was a lack of police presence, with fans able to walk virtually up to the entrance unopposed. There were scenes of overcrowding as fans still attempted to make their way inside, with a few able to get past the police by the entrance despite them insisting it was off-limits.
Many have consequently had to watch on from nearby restaurants, many of which have put up huge screens for those looking to watch the opening match against Ecuador. The South Americans raced into a 2-0 lead before half-time despite having a goal ruled out which would have been the fastest in World Cup finals history.
Enner Valencia opened the scoring from the penalty spot after a foul by Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb, having earlier had a header ruled out. And the former West Ham star then doubled his side’s lead with a thunderbolt header, sparking celebratory scenes among their supporters in the process both in the stadium and around the city.
But Express Sport were among those turned away from the fan festival at Al Bidda Park. The site, which was officially opened the day before, can host a maximum of 40,000 supporters.
While Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary General, Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy said: “The FIFA Fan Festival represents everything that is unique, memorable and special about Qatar’s FIFA World Cup. Every day during the tournament, thousands of fans from across the globe will gather here to meet and enjoy top-class football – all in a stunning setting which features the beautiful Doha Corniche as the backdrop.”
The area only opened at 4pm local time, with the match kicking off at 7pm in Qatar and 4pm in the UK, but very quickly became full as fans poured in to watch the host nation get the tournament underway. And there will be concerns over policing with it highly likely the 40,000 capacity will be filled on every day of the tournament.
The issue on Sunday night follows stories of families being turned away on Saturday and supporters being held in queues of as long as two hours in the baking heat as they waited to enter the fan park. The Qatar World Cup has come in for widespread criticism due to the country’s human right issues and attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community.