Fifa World Cup: Authorities face overcrowding challenges ahead of opener

Fans hoping to attend concert featuring Lebanese singer Myriam Fares and Colombian singer Maluma turned away due to packed venue



AP
AP

By AP

Published: Sun 20 Nov 2022, 12:29 AM

Authorities turned away thousands of fans Saturday night from a concert celebrating the World Cup beginning the next day in Qatar, revealing the challenges ahead for Doha as it tries to manage crowds in Fifa's most-compact tournament ever.

Disappointed fans took being turned away largely in stride. Outside the venue, Qatari police, security guards and others guided the thousands away with giant foam fingers, bullhorns and blinking traffic control wands.

But the overflowing concert comes before the rest of the 1.2 million fans expected at the tournament arrive in Qatar.

A 30-year-old trucker from Mumbai and his friends had got a rare day off from Hamad Port to walk 6 kilometers to a fan zone before being turned away.

“We’re sad to leave because it’s too early," he added. "There’s nothing we can do.”

Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which oversees the World Cup, did not immediately respond to questions about the fan zone turning away crowds Saturday night.

AP
AP

Qatar has spent over $200 billion for improvements across the country. That includes a vast new underground metro system that can whisk fans from the airport to matches. It has even closed schools for the month and urged residents to work from home.

But Associated Press journalists have seen pinch points where an overwhelming number of people can be bunched together even before the tournament begins.

In Doha's Souq Waqif, a major tourist destination, a walkway between outdoor restaurants quickly filled shoulder to shoulder Friday night. Its nearby metro station saw long lines, with some pushing and shoving between orderlies and those taking the train.

Saturday night, however, started much smoother as Friday is the mandatory day off for all workers in the country. Fewer people stolled the corniche as a massive fireworks show suddenly went off, illuminating Doha's glittering skyline to awed passersby.

AP
AP

Just after 8pm, however, crowds thronged the Fan Zone, hoping to attend a concert featuring Lebanese singer Myriam Fares and Colombian singer Maluma. But as hundreds squeezed inside a holding pen, thousands more waited outside the venue.

At one exit, the crowd tried to argue its way inside, with a few spectators slipping past guards. At an entrance, one security guard with a bullhorn pleaded with the crowd: “For your safety, please go back!”

Still, some stayed and waited, hoping for a chance to get in, like Ayman Awad, a geologist who flew to Qatar on Saturday from Sudan.

“I won’t give up,” Awad said. “I hope it doesn’t stay this crowded.”

The Fan Zone at Al Bidda Park plans other major concerts as well during the tournament.

On Saturday night, a quick set of calls to several outlets in Doha's West Bay, an area full of high-end hotels, found that all were fully booked the night before the tournament as the Fan Zone was shut.

Yet the real test will begin Sunday, as Ecuador faces Qatar in the opening match and the group stage follows behind – with the crowds to come.

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