DOHA: After days of fan parades in Doha and throngs of people greeting team buses arriving at hotels, World Cup organizers insisted on Wednesday the atmosphere is authentic.
“Numerous journalists and commentators on social media have questioned whether these are ‘real’ fans,” Qatari tournament organizers said in a statement. “We thoroughly reject these assertions, which are both disappointing and unsurprising.”
Many fans who have gathered wearing team colors are originally from India — a cricket-crazed country which never played at a World Cup — and among the large majority of overseas workers in Qatar’s 2.9 million population.
Fans traveling from overseas typically do not arrive at a World Cup until closer to their teams’ first game and the tournament starts on Sunday.
One video clip posted from outside the England team hotel on Tuesday showed fans chanting the line “It’s coming home” from the “Three Lions” fan anthem sung since 1996.
Suggestions that Qatar was hiring people to be fans followed reports this month that tournament organizers were paying all expenses for about 1,600 fans drawn from the 31 visiting teams to travel and sing in the opening ceremony on Sunday before the home team plays Ecuador.
The invited fans must stay for at least two weeks and are encouraged to post positive social media content about Qatar and the tournament, while reporting accounts which post abusive comments online.
The rebuttal Wednesday by Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy defended soccer fans living in the country “many of whom share emotional connections with multiple nations.”
“In different places around the world, fans have different traditions, different ways to celebrate, and while that may contrast with what people are used to in Europe or South America, it doesn’t mean the passion for football is any less authentic,” organizers said.
Fans living in Qatar could also buy cheaper match tickets in a category exclusively for residents.
They cost 40 riyals ($11) for each of the 47 group-stage games played after the Qatar-Ecuador opener, compared to the lowest price of 250 riyals ($69) for international visitors.
In a separate development, Qatar’s Supreme Committee said it has apologized after a Danish film crew were threatened by security staff live on air as they broadcast in Doha.
TV2 reporter Rasmus Tantholdt was speaking as part of a live broadcast when he was approached by security staff that had appeared on a golf buggy next to the newly opened Chedi Hotel at Katara Cultural Village.
In the footage, which went viral on social media, Tantholdt is seen remonstrating with the security officials, displaying his accreditation before accusing them of declaring they want to break the camera equipment.
A statement from the Supreme Committee said the Danish broadcast crew were “mistakenly interrupted” during a live broadcast.
“Upon inspection of the crew’s valid tournament accreditation and filming permit, an apology was made to the broadcaster by on-site security before the crew resumed their activity.
“Tournament organizers have since spoken to the journalist and issued an advisory to all entities to respect the filming permits in place for the tournament.”
Tantholdt was also caught on camera asking: “You invited the whole world here. Why can’t we film?”
The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy was set up by the Qatar government to plan and prepare for the World Cup.
The tournament gets under way on Sunday as Qatar take on Ecuador in the tournament opener.