Qatar ‘gripped by football fever’ despite early exodus in World Cup opener

One of the chief organisers of the Qatar World Cup believes the country is “gripped by football fever”, despite many local fans walking out early during the hosts’ defeat to Ecuador.

Empty seats became increasingly visible in home sections of Al Bayt Stadium from half-time onwards, and by the final 15 minutes the ground was virtually deserted except for the exuberant Ecuadorians.

However, Nasser Al Khater, the chief executive of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, insisted the country is excited to be hosting the finals, which were so controversially awarded back in 2010.

“Qatar 2022 is finally here and we celebrated with a mesmerising opening ceremony, passion in the stands and exciting football on the pitch,” he said.

“Our nation is gripped by football fever and the party will last all the way to the final on December 18.”

Judging by the rush for the exits, the local fans were in no mood to party by the end at Al Bayt.

But perhaps many were keen to avoid getting caught in traffic congestion. The approaches to the stadium – which is the only one of the eight venues only accessible by road – were gridlocked in the hours before the opening ceremony.

There were other early organisational issues reported too, including overcrowding on Doha’s metro system and pushing and shoving as fans tried to gain entry to fan parks.

The Welsh branch of the Football Supporters’ Association tweeted on Monday morning to suggest fans stayed away from fan zones “until teething issues settle down”.

“Lots of teething problems at fans zones last night,” the tweet from the Fan Embassy Wales account read.

“We went last night. 90 mins entry not taking paper Hayya card as entry. Only really local fans inside and not that full. Welsh fans may wish not to go for a few days until the teething issues settle down.”

The opening ceremony did appear to capture the crowd’s interest and featured Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman and K-pop star Jung Kook among others.

Hollywood star Morgan Freeman featured in the World Cup opening ceremony on Sunday
Hollywood star Morgan Freeman featured in the World Cup opening ceremony on Sunday (Adam Davy/PA)

However, the messages of inclusion jarred in a country where same-sex relationships are criminalised.

Yasir Al Jamal, the director general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said: “After more than a decade of hard work and close collaboration with stakeholders across the country, a unique edition of the FIFA World Cup is finally here.

“It is sure to live long in the memory of fans in Qatar and across the globe.”