The smiling police officer stopped the H. “Let me help you, Sir.” And he did. He fixed my bemused hubby’s Arabic headgear, his fan attire for the FIFA 2022 World Cup matches in Qatar.

This small, unsolicited gesture randomly repeated time and again by strangers throughout Doha, not just to us, but across the East-West divide, made me smile too.

This police officer was the first of many to offer to fix the hubby’s headgear as one of many gestures that helped close the divide between Arabic and other cultures.

It also had me reflecting on the lasting benefits of the four-week football tournament – the a-ha moments and lessons learnt.

I am not referring to the big data – the attendance numbers, tickets sold, tourist revenue or even the actual football matches.

But rather, the small “off-the-ball” stuff.

It’s these things I wish we could bottle and share for the lasting benefit of mankind. (I know, I know … I’m a live-in-hope-idealist. But, hey, someone’s got to do it.)

It is the:








Hospitality, and


The Tunisian fans included many of the Tunisians who live in Qatar. The local Qataris only account for about 10% of the three million people who live in the country. Qatari residents bought the majority of the more than three million tickets purchased for the 64 games.

Bringing everyone together

Many have said it, and I’m shouting it too – “football brings everyone together”.  

I saw and experienced this in South Africa in 2010 and I am privileged to see it all over again in Doha, Qatar.

There is something very special about bringing nations of the world together to support and celebrate their football teams.

But how can we bottle this euphoria in making the world a better place?  

(I am mindful, as I write about the Qatar experience, of the migrant worker labour law claims, the intolerance towards the LGBTQ community and yes, the absence of beer in the stadiums.)

Regardless of your stance, let’s accept, up front, that no country is perfect, including Qatar. I would like to think, however, that those who have travelled here from around the globe, now know that the Qatar of some media houses, is generally not the Qatar of their own experiences.  

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here are some observations from my experiences of the 2022 FIFA World Cup to date (we’ve just reached round of 16 of the contest).

New place and new concept

Hosting a World Cup outside of a traditional location – Europe, South America and Europe – is surely a coup for “the beautiful game”.

This is the first time the soccer spectacle with 32 competing nations has been held in the Middle East. This World Cup comes with an Arabic flavour.

This official poster of the ghutra and agal raised in delight captures the essence of the host nation, Qatar, as the first in the Middle East to do so.

Additionally, also for the first time, it is being hosted in one city, Doha – a developing city that arguably, built its own plans around the event.

This “compact” World Cup is genius.


  • It has enabled new fans access to games
  • It has enabled more fans to attend more games
  • It has introduced football to new audiences (the number of Indian, Bangladeshis and Pakistani fans has been amazing)
  • It’s been kinder to the players. They are settled in one place with no need to travel long distances to different destinations and hotels.  

The one-city concept means you can attend more than one game daily, since no two stadiums are further than 78km apart.

In fact, there are five social media influencers who are literally going from one match to another (as many as three or four in a day), along with one hardened soccer fan who is determined to beat the record of attending 31 games as set in South Africa in 2010.

Almost all eight stadiums can be reached via the underground, or Metro. Those that aren’t, are serviced by a super organised bus service.

The Metro with its 37 stations and three different lines has transported the majority of fans to the eight different stadiums.

A match a day is more than enough me, what with all the walking (well over 10 000 steps each time), travelling, queuing, cheering, engaging with strangers and fun.

I managed four games altogether all on different days, with one starting at 10pm. Yes, I know it’s very late but the Middle East moves to a different rhythm – and besides, that’s 4pm in South America, 7pm in the UK, 9pm in South Africa and 6am in Sydney, Australia.

And, of course, the tickets are not cheap, which is why we were up in the proberbial pigeon lofts, right at the top of the stadiums.

To be fair, however, the first lucky draw ticket system afforded to Qatar residents saw some tickets start at just QAR40 (less than R200). Fortunately, there are fabulous fan zones too.

In another aside, Qatari residents bought more tickets than any other nation. The Americans came in second and our neighbours in Saudi Arabia third. The English fans came in fourth in terms of buying the more than 3 million tickets sold.

According to local newspapers here, at the end of group stage, there had been a 96% attendance at the stadiums.

American, English and South Africans, but also Brazilians, Costa Rican, Japanese and fans from other nations are able to watch each others teams play thanks to the close proximity of all the stadiums. The one-city host concept offers many benefits.

Foreign fan support

A new-found realisation is that you don’t have to be English to support England, Brazilian to support Brazil, Argentinian to support Argentina …

As we have experienced, there are Indian Argentinians, Pakistani Brazilians, Sri Lankan Qataris and any variation on the theme that you like. They come in large numbers and are enthusiastic.

An English supporter (right) chats to an American supporter in an Argentinian shirt on the Metro – a scenario played out daily before and after games among fans of all nations.

Football has a massive international following, even in those countries where the sport is not played at the highest level.

One of my aha moments was witnessing an older Qatari man, dressed in his white thobe and distinguishing white ghutra and black rope agal, engaging two young Pakistani men, wearing branded Qatari fan clothing.

The older man was both tickled and gratified to learn that these men were supporting his country. He joyfully slapped them on the backs, incredulous and happy, as he shuffled away.

One up for global goodness, I thought.  

Cutting across the divide

This cross-cultural appreciation of others has extended itself throughout the tournament in all sorts of ways.

Stories abound of Qataris inviting fans into their majilis (an Arabic term for meeting); of residents living here sharing their knowledge, food and the hospitality in their homes; of swopping stories and giving up their seats for other fans on the Metro. I’ve seen the exchanges; watched fans learn a few words in another’s language and delighted in the dancing, singing, laughter and celebrations across the East West divide.

Japanese fans along with Kenyans who are resident in Qatar pose for photographs before the game between France and Denmark at 974 Stadium. With such easy access to games, fans have opted to watch teams other than their own.

To this end, here are a couple of other observations that transcend countries to show, once again, that there is more than unites than divides us:  

  • The blasting out of Sweet Caroline is a sing-along winner regardless of your nationality.
  • Stanchions (upright portable barriers) are to crowd control what milk is to cornflakes. You can’t have one without the other, and everyone. recognises and respects their functionality regardless of the country of origin.
  • Nowadays, brand loyalty of an individual player is often what guides support for a national team. This, for example, is why there are so many Qatari residents who follow Argentina and Portugal. Their heroes are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo respectively.
  • If something is expensive everyone complains!
  • Looking out for children and the elderly is a natural default. The Brazilian coach, Adenor Bacchi, for example, was blown away by the kindness shown to his sleeping grandson by an unknown fan. Captured on camera, the fan was tracked down and rewarded with a Brazilian jersey. The fan is from Palestine.
  • Smiles are a universal language.
  • Music and a good beat brings us together too, while singing makes us smile. But I beam most broadly when the Welsh polish their vocal chords!
  • We can all learn from others. The Japanese fans are among the most popular, simply because they clean up after every game! They brought their own plastic bags to each match to remove their rubbish and that of those around them.

Getting ahead with Arabic head gear

For me, however, it’s “hat’s off” to the role played by Arabic headgear.

These English fans, as with many others from different nations, in their thobes and Arabic headgear were hailed for embracing local dress code.

Donning a ghutra (that’s the headscarf part) and an agal (the rope part that holds the ghutra in place), which are so symbolic of the Arab culture, provided a bridge between the East West divide.

Time and again, we were asked to pose with fans from Arab nations because “you wear our headwear”.

The requests for photographs from Arabic fans supporting various nations continued.
These Saudi supporters shared their biscuits and delight at our decision to embrace their traditional attire.

If it wasn’t requests for photographs, it was an offer to “fix” our headgear.

Eventually I stopped taking these photographs! So many Arabic football fans, officials and volunteers fixed our headgear and tried to teach us the correct way to wear the ghutra and agal.

As shared, it wasn’t just us. Fans from across the globe wore Arabic headgear too. Many wore ghutas in their national colours.

Of course, from these first exchanges, more questions and conversations flowed as we learnt about one another as football fans.

We engaged in queues ahead of the games, on buses, in taxis, on the underground, in the stadiums, in the shops and in our celebrations after the final whistle.     

Doing-a-Bev has become my default.  (Doing-a-Bev is as per my friend’s special brand of engaging strangers).

After all, after 10 months of living in Doha, I am now a little wiser than most of the million-plus fans anticipated up until the final whistle on 18 December.  As a resident ( and human being!) I need to be welcoming of visitors to my new temporary home.

These Lebanese visitors had come to see their father who lives in Qatar, and support Argentina.


Certainly, the volunteers have done the country proud with their support and enthusiasm (yet another ingredient worth bottling post FIFA 2022).

But not just the volunteers, service staff employees across Qatar have excelled in making visitors feel welcome, entrenching the Qatari brand of hospitality.

Fans from around the globe have been appreciative of the support of volunteers and service industries in what has been a well-run World Cup.

Metro – this way

One volunteer became an overnight viral sensation for his take of “Metro, this way”. Abubakr Abbas, 23, a Kenyan, living in Qatar, struck a universal chord in guiding masses of fans towards the free public transport, the city’s super-efficient light rail underground Metro. (You may remember from an earlier post, that I am the Metro’s chief cheerleader, given my admiration for its clean, efficient, dependable and cost effective service. It’s presently free to fans.

“Metro, this way” blasting out via a megaphone is now part of the FIFA 2022 soundtrack. Actually, it’s now also duet with fans responding “this way” to the call of “Metro”.

This sing-song engagement happens at most stations, as shown in the memes and video clips that continue to flood social media.

Don’t we just love it when something so random becomes something so feel-good regardless of age or nationality?

Which brings me back to that bottle.

Not the missing beer bottles (a topic for another day), but those ingredients deserving of being bottled and distributed for building bridges and breaking down stereotypes.

These are the ingredients of goodwill, open engagement, learning, hospitality, tolerance …

The volunteers, including those who hail the masses with their megaphones, are a huge favourite with fans for their enthusiasm and helpfulness. They have done the country proud. And those stanchions in the background, well, they’ve kept us patient and well-behaved.

Here’s hoping

Well, here’s what I hope …

I’m hoping that those who have been here will simply share their stories and experiences with family and friends back home.

In doing so, they’ll be building bridges by becoming the change they wish to see in the world too.

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