Soccer High stakes for Qatar as World Cup starts

DOHA, Nov 20 (Reuters) – The Middle East’s first World Cup kicked off in Qatar on Sunday. and the most expensive in history.

In a show of Arab solidarity, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and the presidents of Egypt and Algeria will join political leaders in an opening ceremony at the tent-shaped stadium at 17:40 (1440 GMT), led by Qatar’s emir. Match between hosts Qatar and Ecuador. The UN Secretary General will also be there.

The tournament marks the culmination of Qatar’s soft power on the world stage, emerging from a 3-1/2-year boycott that ends in 2021 by three Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. See the first direct flight from Israel to Qatar.

On stage, South Korean singer Jungkook of the K-pop boy band BTS will join Qatari singer Fahad Al-Qubaisi to sing the new official song of the competition called Dreamers.

Qatar, which has denied allegations of worker abuse and discrimination, hopes FIFA will draw attention on the pitch after mounting criticism over foreign workers’ rights, LGBT rights and social restrictions. The organizers also deny the information that the right to organize was bribed.

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At a press conference on Saturday, FIFA president Gianni Infantino spoke at length about Europeans criticizing the host nation, saying the only way to improve human rights was communication, while Doha pointed to recent labor reforms.

Team captains Denmark and Germany will wear One Love armbands as they prepare to compete in the conservative Muslim state, where same-sex relationships are illegal, their teams said.

Consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited in the stadium. Organizers say everyone is welcome, while cautioning against public displays of affection.

THE FANS

Many fans are already in Doha, but the main rush is expected later this week, with fans flying in from neighboring cities every day. Argentina fan Julio Cesar said he was expecting a great atmosphere when he arrived. “Even though there’s no beer, we’ll have it before the game.”

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Hundreds of workers, all men, gathered at an alcohol-free sports field in an industrial area on the outskirts of the city as some guests enjoyed their first sips at the opening of FIFA’s fan festival in central Doha on Saturday. They can watch the game there, and the stadiums are free of charge, along with other infrastructure efforts for the event.

“Of course I didn’t buy the tickets. They are expensive, so I have to use the money for other things, like giving back to my family,” said Qasim, a Ghanaian security guard who has worked in Qatar for four years. Reuters reported.

The event hired 24-year-old Kenya Neville and compatriot Willie, also 24, a Manchester City fan, as security guards. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Neville said.

Rich gas producer Qatar is the smallest country to host a major global soccer event worth $220 billion. Crowd control will be important as more than a third of Qatar’s population, or about 1.2 million tourists, are expected.

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Workers were on Saturday landscaping outdoor parks and walkways and moving construction materials near the National Museum.

But life went on as normal at Lagoona Mall, where World Cup songs blared, with people queuing at banks, sipping coffee at cafes and buying groceries.

“I came now because I don’t know how bad the traffic will be at the end of this week,” said Esraa, an Egyptian woman who sells groceries at Carrefour.

Reporting by Maya Gebeili and Andrew Mills; Written by Gaida Gantus; Additional reporting by Yesim Diekmen, Thomas Suen, Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber, Ilse Filks, and Karolos Grohmann in Doha, and Omar Fhami and Mahmoud Mourad in Cairo; Edited by William Mallard and Kirsten Donovan

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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