‘Fyre Festival 2.0’: Fans hit makeshift shelters, metal box rooms at Qatar World Cup

AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) — For many foreign soccer fans, the road to the World Cup in Doha begins each morning at a barren campsite in the middle of the desert.

Visitors who found hotels in central Doha overbooked or well beyond their budget settled for the remote tented village of Al Khor, where there are no locks on the tents and no beers on tap.

Others just wanted an adventure. On Wednesday, a DJ blasted electronic dance music around a fire pit as crowds of fans lounged on bean bags, sipped soft drinks and stared at big screens, about an hour away from Doha.

“I’m here because I couldn’t find anywhere else,” said Haidar Haji, a 27-year-old architect engineer from Kuwait. He said it was a pain to travel to Doha every morning from the tent village, but he had no choice. “The hotels were very expensive. It was crazy.”

Visitors who found hotels in central Doha overbooked or well beyond their budget settled for the remote tented village of Al Khor, where there are no locks on the tents and no beers on tap.
Visitors who found hotels in central Doha overbooked or well beyond their budget settled for the remote tented village of Al Khor, where there are no locks on the tents and no beers on tap.

Even so, Al Khor’s fan village doesn’t come cheap. Haji said he pays $450 a night for his sparse makeshift shelter, which authorities tout as “the perfect destination for a truly enjoyable and luxurious stay.” Tents are equipped with plumbing and basic furniture. The venue has a swimming pool and a luxurious Arabic restaurant.

Ever since Qatar was announced as the host of the World Cup, fears have grown about how the tiny country would find room for the massive influx of 1.2 million fans – equal to almost a third of the population.

Qatar’s frenzied building program has delivered tens of thousands of rooms through new hotels, rental apartments and even three giant cruise ships. But soaring prices have forced many budget-conscious fans into remote desert campsites and giant fan villages in the far-flung Doha area, including one near the airport made up of undulating halls.

In Al Khor Village, many fans complained about the isolation and lack of alcohol. “Honestly, you can find more alcohol in Tehran,” said Parisa, a 42-year-old Iranian oil worker who declined to give her last name, citing the political situation in Iran. She was staring at the void in the campground’s common area and said she had no idea how to fill her time. The posh hotel bars of Doha were miles away. “We thought they would open up more for outsiders to enjoy.”

Paola Bernal from Tabasco, southern Mexico, wasn’t sure what to expect from the first World Cup in the Middle East. But he said he has been surprised by how long it takes to cross the world’s smallest host country. Buses from the campground are “a mess,” he said, and stop running at 10 p.m., forcing fans to shell out big bucks for Uber rides.

“There are such long distances, I don’t know how,” he said. Although some stages are connected to Doha’s shiny new metro network, they often require a 2.5 km (1.5 mi) walk from the stations. Other venues can only be reached by bus, with some drop-off points a walk from the stadium gates — and desirable bars and restaurants even further away.

Al Khor’s barren expanses are no selfie-taker’s paradise. But Nathan Thomas, a website designer, said he was very pleased with the “authentic Arabic” result. The only major concern, he said, is safety. Not every scene is in the eye of a guard. Tents have no locks. Their fins come off easily.

“We keep telling people it’s a safe country, don’t worry,” he said.

From the Free Zone Fan Village, in the desert south of Doha, fans dragged suitcases across large areas of artificial turf under the glare of the stadium lights.

Manufactured cabins are some of the cheapest accommodations available, starting at around $200 a night. Every few minutes, low-flying planes roar over the village to the old airport, which has reopened to serve daily shuttle flights to the tournament. Banners affixed to the trailers urge fans to “Have Fun.”

A few days before the tournament, social media was flooded with images of toilets that had not even been installed and cables coiled in the ground to connect water and electricity.

Many complained of excessively long waits to check in. A crowd of guests waiting in line Wednesday night said they couldn’t get their rooms because the front desk wasn’t sure who had already checked out. “We wanted good vibes, good energy, to be with other people,” said Mouman Alani from Morocco. “This is very disorganized.”

One camper on Twitter dubbed the site “Fyre Festival 2.0,” referring to an infamous music festival billed as a luxury getaway that left fans scrambling for makeshift shelters on a dark beach.

“When we went to our room, everything was messed up,” Aman Mohammed, a 23-year-old from Calcutta, India, said in the common area on Wednesday. She said she waited two hours under the hot sun for a cleaner to arrive the day before. “It smelled so bad, like a bad bath. It was pathetic.”

But, he insisted, there was no false advertising.

The site shows dozens of colorful metal boxes side by side on a vast dusty expanse. And despite his disappointment, he said, the World Cup was ultimately about football.

“Ronaldo is playing his last World Cup, I’m only here to see him,” said Mohamed, referring to the superstar playing for Portugal at the tournament. “Watching this has been a dream of mine since I was a kid.”

Associated Press reporter Jon Gambrell in Doha contributed to this report.

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