29 Nov 2022

Unmatched crowd-control to manage fish bowl of football fans in Qatar

2:58 pm on 29 November 2022
Senegal fans at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Senegal fans in the stands at Al Thumama Stadium during the 3-1 win over Qatar. Photo: Supplied / FIFA

By Coen Lammers in Doha*

Analysis - The Qatar World Cup is undertaking a level of crowd-control and logistics that may never be replicated.

A human tsunami of football fans each day rolls through Doha in the FIFA World Cup fish bowl called Qatar.

Many commentators have questioned how the tiny emirate state could handle the logistics of hosting 32 teams, 64 matches and one million visitors in the city of Doha.

The vibe of this tournament on the ground is definitely different from the traditional rhythm of fans travelling around the host country, and teams and fans moving from city to city. Instead, the Qataris have built eight state-of-the-art stadiums to host the entire event in one city.

Aside from the magnificent Al Bayt Stadium, about an hour from downtown Doha, the other stadiums are all within a 30 minute circle.

Australia fans celebrate the 1-0 win during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group D match between Tunisia and Australia at Al Janoub Stadium on November 26, 2022 in Al Wakrah, Qatar.

Australia fans celebrate the 1-0 win during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group D match between Tunisia and Australia at Al Janoub Stadium. Photo: Supplied / FIFA / Mike Hewitt

To put that in a New Zealand perspective, the distance between the Lusail Iconic Stadium on the northern edge of town and the Al Janoub Stadium in the southern satellite town of Al Wakra is the equivalent of driving from Auckland Airport to Albany, but without the Auckland traffic and on six-lane motorways.

Coming from New Zealand, where authorities seem unable to create one world-class stadium, it is mind-blowing to drive past three or four stunning venues with capacities of 40,000 to 80,000 during one short drive through Doha.

With so many stadiums and four games each day, some visitors are losing track of what game or venue they are heading to and many fans and journalists have even found themselves on the wrong bus to the wrong stadium.

Despite all the fears before the tournament, the tournament organisers have clearly recruited some of the best traffic planners on the planet, as huge crowds are moved across the city seemingly without much incident.

Japanese fans in extravagant costumes at the Qatar FIFA World Cup.

Japanese fans in extravagant costumes at the Qatar FIFA World Cup. Photo: Supplied / FIFA

The brand new metro system and an endless fleet of buses transport tens of thousands of fans, media and World Cup staff around the city each day, from hotels to stadiums, from stadiums to metro stations, or from stadium to stadium.

The logistics of smoothly moving four full stadiums of fans each day and the usual daily traffic, as well as fans heading to fan fests, is a level of crowd-control that may never be replicated.

Several stadiums are stuck in the middle of the desert and nowhere near a metro stadium, so planning to move spectators from those games has been particularly complex and meticulous.

In the first few days, many fans were complaining about having to walk long distances, in what often appeared to be the wrong direction or in circles, but everyone has since discovered that there is a method to this Qatari madness.

After each match, the human river slowly but surely moves through a labyrinth of fences, as people are funnelled from the one main stream into separate directions, to the metro, the car parks or bus depot, and from there into smaller streams for particular destinations.

Fans entering through the complex but efficient queueing system at the Lusail stadium in Doha, Qatar for Portugal vs Uruguay.

Fans entering through the complex but efficient queuing system at the Lusail stadium ahead of Portugal vs Uruguay. Photo: Coen Lammers

Outside each stadium, a mixture of local and international musicians and buskers create a party atmosphere to keep the queuing crowds entertained.

Hundreds of cheerful volunteers with oversized foam fingers guide the fans to the right lines and an endless stream of buses come and go to swiftly moves tens of thousands back to their accommodation.

Before you know you it, you are on a luxury air-conditioned bus on an eight-lane motorway zooming back to a local drop-off point.

At the Al Janoub Stadium, the fans are funnelled across 30 gates, where every two minutes 30 new buses pull up to deliver fans at the local metro station.

Money is not an issue in Qatar and there are so many buses that even the drivers joke that they often drive around with only one or two passengers.

"This is great. It's like having your private driver," says Tetsuya from Japan, who is more used to cramming into a Tokyo metro.

Tetsuya is visiting his first World Cup and is clearly impressed by the logistics in Qatar.

"I just step out of my hotel and there are buses waiting to take me to every stadium," says the IT consultant who loves the fact that all games are so close together.

"This will never happen again, when you can go to a different match each day, so I am trying to see to make the most of it."

Tunisia fans in stands for the match against Australia at the Qatar FIFA World Cup.

Tunisia fans in stands for the match against Australia at the Al Janoub Stadium. Photo: Supplied / FIFA

Local expats who have been in Qatar for some years, say that the investment in infrastructure will be the lasting legacy of this tournament for locals after the tournament.

Six or seven years ago, the city had no public transport to speak of and an ineffective roading network that would create a daily traffic nightmare for locals.

Combine that with the uber-aggressive driving style by local residents in their over-sized SUVs, you can see why the streets of Doha were not for the faint-hearted.

With the space of a few years, the wider Doha area is now connected by numerous eight-lane highways which were often built within the space of six months.

Crowds at the FIFA World Cup fan fest in Doha, Qatar.

Crowds at the FIFA World Cup fan fest in Doha, Qatar. Photo: Supplied / FIFA

Doha will end up with a shiny new metro and impressive highway system, but zooming across these new roads, it is hard not to feel sad about the human cost.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers were recruited from neighbouring countries to complete this engineering feat, often under horrific conditions, working long days in the extreme Qatari heat to complete the projects before the World Cup.

We now know that many of them never made it home, and in an ironic twist, most of these migrant workers will never be able to use the new motorways they created.

Only residents with certain occupations are allowed to get a driver's licence in Qatar, and only if your employer provides you with a no-objection certificate.

Sadly that does not include those whose blood and sweat created the infrastructure the Qataris are now enjoying.

* Coen Lammers is attending the Fifa World Cup in Qatar for Radio New Zealand. Qatar will be the sixth Fifa World Cup he has covered.

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