Qatar Turns Back Thousands From Concert Kickoff

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Authorities turned away thousands of fans Saturday night from a concert celebrating the World Cup beginning Sunday in Qatar, revealing the challenges ahead for Doha as it tries to manage crowds in FIFA’s most compact tournament ever. Disappointed fans took being turned away largely in stride. Outside the venue, Qatari police and security guards guided the thousands away with giant foam fingers, bullhorns, and blinking traffic control wands, the AP reports. But the overflowing concert comes before the rest of the 1.2 million fans expected at the tournament arrive in the tiny nation on the Arabian Peninsula. And with Qatar deciding only Friday to ban beer sales from tournament stadiums, fan zones like the one on the corniche hosting the concert will be the only FIFA-associated area serving pints—meaning more fans could wind up there.

“We know that what the police say here goes,” said a 30-year-old trucker from Mumbai, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals. He and his friends got a rare day off from Hamad Port to walk 3.7 miles to the fan zone before being turned away. “We’re sad to leave because it’s too early,” he added. “There’s nothing we can do.” Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which oversees the World Cup, said in a statement that it was “absolutely delighted” with the opening of the Fan Zone. “The event reached its capacity of 40,000 people … a sign of its success and popularity,” the committee said.

Qatar, home to 3 million people, will see its population swell as the tournament begins. It has spent over $200 billion for improvements. But AP journalists have seen pinch points where an overwhelming number of people can be bunched together even before the tournament begins. In Doha’s Souq Waqif, a major tourist destination, a walkway between outdoor restaurants quickly filled shoulder to shoulder Friday night. Its nearby metro station saw long lines, with some pushing and shoving between orderlies and those taking the train. Saturday night started much smoother, but just after 8 pm, crowds thronged the Fan Zone, hoping to attend a concert featuring Lebanese singer Myriam Fares and Colombian singer Maluma. As hundreds squeezed into a holding pen, thousands more waited outside the venue. The real test will begin Sunday, as Ecuador faces Qatar in the opening match, and the group stage follows.

(Read more 2022 World Cup stories.)

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