Qatar sign Spain handball fans to cheer in championship

Qatar's Mahmoud Hassab Alla (top) attempts to score during the 24th Men's Handball World Championships preliminary round Group A match Qatar vs Brazil in Doha on January 15, 2015 (AFP Photo/Marwan Naamani) (AFP)

Madrid (AFP) - For a special boost at the world handball championship starting Thursday, hosts Qatar have flown in the noisiest fans they can find to cheer them -- all the way from Spain.

About 60 Spaniards have flown to the Gulf state for matches including a tie with Spain where they will be obliged to cheer against their native side, the defending world champions.

The travelling fans are guests of the Qatar Handball Association for the duration of the tournament which starts on Thursday and runs until the final scheduled on February 1.

"They are paying for the flights, lodging and full board in a good hotel, they are granting the fans access to watch the whole world cup," said Samuel Ruiz, 33, president of one of the Spanish supporters' groups, Furia Conquense.

"It is a good enough offer to make you cheer them on in their matches, even if they are playing against Spain. It's all paid for by Qatar so those are the ones we have to support," he told AFP.

Most of those travelling were from the Furia Conquense, a group devoted to the Ciudad Encantada team in the central town of Cuenca, which prides itself as the biggest and most musical handball fan club in Spain.

Ruiz himself could not get time off work so had to stay behind in Spain while his 30 Furia Conquense companions -- some of them unemployed -- plus others from clubs in Valencia and Burgos jetted 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometres) to Qatar.

He said his companions had taken the saxophone, trumpets and drums they play at matches and were rehearsing newly adapted English-language versions of their team songs, changing the lyrics from "Cuenca" to "Qatar".

He said the visit was set up thanks to links between the Cuenca club and Spanish staff who work with the Qatar team.

"We are well-known in Spain. We create an atmosphere that puts a lot of pressure on the opposition and encourages the home team for the whole match," said Ruiz, a 33-year-old administrative worker.

Qatar play the opening match of the 24-team tournament against Brazil on Thursday. They will face Spain on January 21 in one of their other group matches.

Among the other top contenders are Olympic and European champions France, who play their opening game against the Czech Republic on Friday.

So-called "mercenary" fans have been a feature of other sporting events.

In the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa, Chinese actors and musicians were reportedly hired to cheer for North Korea.

Qatar has been chosen to host the football World Cup in 2022, among various other international sports tournaments.