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Doha diaries: A World Cup of protests, song and more

Four days into it, this World Cup has already seen a number of protests, the latest in what could be a long line being the way Germany did their customary pre-match photo shoot. The Die Mannschaft covered mouths while posing for a team photo before Wednesday’s game against Japan.

Iran linking arms and staying mum during their national anthem and Alex Scott going where her men’s team feared to tread have been the others. Scott, a former England defender, was seen with the “One Love” armband to show her support for same sex relationships in a country where it is an offence. England and a host of countries, Germany included, decided not to wear them for fear of sporting sanctions from FIFA.

On Wednesday, at their pre-match press conference, Portugal coach Fernando Santos was asked about it and he said while that decision to not wear armbands was the federation’s to take, he is a fierce defender of human rights. “I remember us fighting for democracy and peace in the 1970s,” he said. Santos, 68, was referring to Portugal’s transition from the autocracy under Antonio de Oliviera Salazar to democracy a process started by the Carnation Revolution of 1974.

Sing a sign

Ubiquitous volunteers — many with outsized cardboard hands pointing in the direction to move — help the non-Doha residents, who seem to have outnumbered those who live here, make their way through the metro of which the city has three lines: red, gold and green. Trains run from 6am to 3am and if you have a Hayya Card, which is much more than an entry permit document, use of the underground is gratis. But just so you don’t get lost loud hailers also let you know which way to take. But at the Al Bidda Station, her arms swaying and pointing to the right way, a young woman volunteer from Ernakulam, was singing “Metro, Metro, this, this way” to the tune of “Twinkle, twinkle little star.”

Brand conscious

Unless you get a World Cup it is difficult to believe the level to which FIFA is brand conscious. You have a water bottle bought from a local store? Well, you either have to empty it before entering a FIFA zone (read: stadium seats, fan areas, media centre or the media tribune) or it will be confiscated. If you are lucky, you will be told to peel off the maker’s name and take it in. If you don’t have a VISA card, you can’t access digital payments at any eatery inside the media centre or use the ATM. Only cash, sir, you will be politely told. A journalist who realised he didn’t have enough dough on him but was hungry and couldn’t use his card asked another for help. That journalist, who had a VISA card, agreed but on condition that he get 10 riyals more. With deadlines always being like they were yesterday, the hungry scribe tried to bargain but eventually gave in.

Security blanket

While it is understandable that accreditation cards are checked at entry points to stadium media centres and then to the tribune, the 2022 World Cup has a private security force checking it even at the exit. The problem with outsourced security in a country whose nuts and bolts are kept greased by people from outside is that they often know a little more than the tourist or journalist seeking help. “Which way to the media centre,” is the most common question scribes ask. Unless you are very lucky, it is met by a stoic “please ask someone else.” The metro station? Ditto.

Mystery of the pick-up point

If after the day’s work, you want to call a taxi aggregator for a ride to your place or for a meal you will first have to deal with the challenge of the pick-up point. Getting to the Qatar National Convention Centre in a taxi is easy, getting out is anything but. Especially at night when the usual routes are shut off. “I have arrived,” pings on your app but the car is nowhere in sight. Share live location and he says, “I can’t get there, can you come out please.” And so, the dance continues till one of you give up. Or, in the off chance, get lucky and the twain do meet.

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