DUBAI — Soccer fans in Dubai were jubilant on Sunday (Nov 20) as they watched the opening match of the 2022 World Cup in neighbouring Qatar at a fan festival in the region’s commercial hub.
The BudX FIFA Fan Festival in Dubai featured big screens, beer and other drinks on an artificial island off the city’s buzzing Marina district, with the skyline as a backdrop.
“I think the fan festivals are a very nice initiative for the fans. Maybe we are not able to go to Qatar, but we really enjoy soccer and we want to support our teams,” said Veronica Maldonado, an Ecuadorian resident of Dubai supporting her home country which won the opening match 2-0 against host Qatar.
Speaking before the match she said: “I wish them (Qatar) all the luck and I wish my country and my team all the luck in the world.”
Fans have travelled huge distances for the opening of the first soccer World Cup to be held in an Arab country.
Qatar’s ruler opened the World Cup on Sunday urging people of all races and orientations to put aside differences, as the host nation faced criticism over its treatment of foreign workers and LGBT rights.
The Muslim Gulf country has denied accusations of abuse of workers and discrimination. Soccer’s governing body FIFA hopes the spotlight will now turn to action on the pitch.
“So we wanted to come to Dubai to be part of the opening of the ceremonies of the FIFA World Cup,” said Elvia Marciel, an American tourist. “We are so happy and thrilled to be here and part of the Asian and Middle Eastern celebration and all the mixtures of cultures.”
Flight bookings to Qatar are booming, particularly from Dubai, as many fans are basing themselves in the emirate and using some 54 daily shuttle flights to Doha due to limited accommodation in the tournament’s smallest ever host.
The United Arab Emirates joined Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain in a boycott of Qatar in 2017 which was largely resolved in early 2021, paving the way for Qatar’s neighbours to benefit from the influx of visitors.
“The fact that the World Cup is in an Arab country, this is pride for us all,” said Abdelrahman Kamal, an Egyptian supporting the Qatari side.