x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Fans give Qatar thumbs up

Australia supporters give Asian Cup organisers their approval, although some voice concerns over anti-alcohol legislation.

Australian supporters have largely enjoyed the facilities and hospitality on offer in Qatar at the Asian Cup. Robert Cianflone / Getty Images
Australian supporters have largely enjoyed the facilities and hospitality on offer in Qatar at the Asian Cup. Robert Cianflone / Getty Images

• For more go to Asian Cup 2011

Before the start of the Asian Cup, Mohamed bin Hammam, the president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), had promised Qatar would deliver "the best tournament ever" and "be the model for future events".

Cynics may have smirked at those boasts; others probably considered them typical of the hyperbole that surrounds such events.

But the first round of matches have been played without any glitches; teams have trained at some of the best facilities; enthusiastic volunteers have ensured a stress-free time for visitors; and fans from every country have been enjoying their stay in Qatar.

Nick Duke, who travelled from Sydney with a group of friends to support the Australia team, has been impressed.

"Everyone is having a great time," said Duke, who estimated that more than 200 fans from Australia had flown in for the tournament.

"I had been to the last Asian Cup in Thailand [where Australia played their group games], and it was fun there. But this is different.

"The hospitality is amazing. The organisers have really taken every measure to make your stay fun and comfortable, right from the hotels to the stadium."

The Asian Cup is in many ways a very early dress rehearsal for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and critics have pointed at the vacant seats that have been visible at all games except the opening ceremony and the following match between the hosts and Uzbekistan.

"It would be absurd to compare fans at an Asian Cup to the World Cup," Duke said. "The World Cup is completely different, at a different level altogether. Do you think there will be a single seat vacant?

"Look at the number of expatriates in Qatar itself and the surrounding Gulf countries. They will not want to miss this opportunity to be at a World Cup."

Much has also been made of the strict anti-alcohol legislation in Qatar, but Duke said neither he nor any of his friends have an issue with that.

"That's OK because in the hotel they have alcohol," he said. "So it's OK. We can understand it's a local custom, so we abide by that and accept it for what it is. We have no problems."

Bob Coventry, who is from Perth but now lives in Qatar, said the absence of alcohol at stadiums was not an issue.

"That's not a problem," he said. "I have been living and working here for four years now. Australians respect the law here and they will just happily attend the matches and do the drinking some other time."

Mark and Helen Davison, however, do not agree with their fellow Australians. The Perth couple, who have come to Qatar with their three children, Isaac, Jacob and Daniel, are hoping the alcohol legislations will be relaxed for the World Cup.

"I think it is going to be a major concern for a lot of visitors coming to Qatar, especially from Western nations and what have you because they want to treat this place as a holiday," Mark said.

"The alcoholic venues which are available here in Qatar are insufficient for the numbers we have. It's going to be a major issue."

"If they don't make changes here before 2022, we are going to have huge problems," Helen added. "For European people, it does take the fun out of the whole thing. They go to the soccer, they go and drink beer, they have fun. So it will be a big problem. It needs to change."

arizvi@thenational.ae

• For more go to Asian Cup 2011