A long road that runs alongside a huge building in the shape of a cruise ship around which the workers are busy. In the distance, giant slides under construction surrounded by cranes. Then a hastily made parking lot, still smelling of fresh tar, access to which is manned by four security agents under a blazing sun. It is in this strange setting, north of Doha and about ten kilometers from the nearest metro station, that Qatar has chosen to set up 1,800 tents as the World Cup approaches to welcome fans from all over the world.
In the competition as a whole, the emirate must see the arrival of more than one million fans. Too much for a small country with limited accommodation capacity. In order to accommodate everyone, the Qatari authorities have multiplied the devices: three XXL cruise ships have been mobilized, with hundreds of containers and sorts of caravans installed in the middle of the desert. And so a campsite was born: the “fan village” of Qetaifan.
When you land in what has been sold to us as a kind of luxury camp – still count on 200 euros a night – you don’t have to go far to hear bad things about it. From the entrance, Elizabeth, Ecuadorian, and Khalil, Sudanese, write the discussion. The former has just arrived after several nights spent in a hotel in central Doha. The second makes the journey in the opposite direction, leaving the campsite after just one night. “It was awful. I paid for fifteen nights, but I can’t see myself staying here another day, Khalil says. I told them : “Too bad, keep my money.“ Everything is tiny, we share bathrooms which are so small they look like prison showers and toilets… It’s really miserable. I don’t understand how you can pay so much.”
In the heart of the ephemeral village at noon there is no crowd. The white tents are lined up parallel in rows of ten giving the impression of having stepped into a military encampment. On the ground, the same tar and the same smell as the parking lot. At the exit we meet a couple of Argentines, however not dissatisfied with their only night spent here, a little less with the defeat experienced by their team the day before. Then on to a group of Saudis, suitcases in hand, who necessarily appreciated Tuesday’s meeting but much less their stay in the fan village.
“The tent is like an oven. At night it can be fine but during the day it is terrible, it looks like a sauna and there is no air conditioning, enraged Arwan, 32, who swapped the ‘Green Falcons’ jersey for a blue and brown striped jersey. From 9 the temperature is already too high and the heat wakes us up. I thought that by coming here we would have a nice and original experience. In the end it’s just a horror, plus we’re off track and we pay an absurd price.
One who describes himself as a “business man” he opens his tent for us: two single beds, separated by a bedside table and a small spinning fan. The thermometer exceeds 40°C. Arwan: “We still had two days to spend here, but like many, we’re leaving today.” A few meters further on, two Scots living in Dubai, a father and his son, put down their things before going to watch a game. “I’ve seen reports about this village, so I don’t have too many expectationssays Mark, the son. But it was the only reasonable thing left two months ago when we wanted to book, otherwise hotels could cost several thousand euros a night. So we’ll be happy.”
To find a little more entertainment, we go to the “Quetaifan Beach Festival”, a place by the sea, attached to the campsite, where they promise us entertainment, concerts and broadcasting of matches on giant screens. The place is nice, there is a nice beach, where the deck chairs are lined up (for a fee), there is a shisha bar and some tents (also for a fee) under which beanbags have been installed. There are also large asphalted flowerbeds at the end of which two large stages and screens broadcast the match between Morocco and Croatia.
But there is no one, or almost. There are more employees than fans. A South African lifeguard ensures that, even in the evening, the place is not full: “It’s poorly organised, we’re far from everything and there’s never a lot of people there.”
Settled in the shade in front of one of the screens, Japan jersey on his back, Maher, a thirty-year-old American with overflowing optimism, tempers our impressions of a total failure. Sure, there aren’t many people, but “Day after day it fills up. If I had come yesterday at the same time it would have been even more empty”. Sure, camping isn’t fancy“but we knew what to expect” : “We see the glass as half full. Frankly, it’s clean, well organized. And shit, we have a chance to see a World Cup. Even if I had slept on the floor, I would have been happy.”