A few days after it started, the Qatar 2022 World Cup has already given us quite a few surprises.
In less than a week we have seen unexpected defeats, heroic victories and painful defeats.
But the surprises have not only come in sports.
The large number of empty seats in the stands during the opening matches, for example, he caught the attention of several expert commentators.
The same happened with the complaints that were made about hundreds of “fake” fans who received money to fill the streets of Doha, the capital of Qatar, in the days before the start of the tournament.
While the BBC was investigating these allegations, it discovered one more unusual detail: fans of the teams from different countries received free airfare and accommodation after they posted positive statements about the tournament on social media or shared and “liked” the tournament. “, to certain types of publications.
The “fake” fans
As the first match of the tournament approached, images were seen of hundreds of supporters, from different countries, waving national flags and chanting slogans in the streets of Doha.
But the photos raised questions on social media, with some questioning why so many fans who appeared to have Middle Eastern or South Asian traits were rooting for teams from all over the planet.
One of the comments asked: “Do they get paid to be fans of other countries or what?”.
During our reporting on the ground, the BBC spoke to a Qatari resident of Indian descent, Aaron Fernandes.
Fernandes says that these kinds of comments reflect a general misunderstanding about the region. With so many immigrants making Qatar their home, he said, why wouldn’t it be filled with soccer fans supporting teams from different countries?
“We have many fans from India who love the game and I am glad that during this FIFA World Cup how much Indians love football has come to light,” he said.
He said that despite the love of cricket that characterizes South Asia, the region also had a high proportion of soccer fans.
And since countries like India have never qualified for a World Cup, many of they choose to support other nations and travel abroad to watch them play.
Aaron is also a member of two fan clubs: the Fifa Fan Movement and the Qatar Fan Leaders scheme. The two groups were created and are run by FIFA and the organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup.
Asked if he had to sign any kind of agreement as part of the leadership scheme, Aaron replied inconclusively: “Of course there are responsibilities, but it’s about the sport. They’ve been doing this for years. It’s nothing to write home about.” .
Free flights and hotels
Despite Aaron’s ambiguous response, the BBC has learned that many members of the leadership program have been asked to sign contracts while at the same time receiving incentives from the tournament organisers.
According to documents to which the BBC had access – in addition to the testimony of various organizing officials – many foreign supporters they were offeredwere free flights to Qatar and accommodation as part of an initiative to “shape the fan experience”.
In exchange, they were asked to sign a code of conduct in which they agreed to “incorporate, where appropriate, content from the SC [Comité Supremo] in their posts,” as well as “liking” and sharing third-party material.
The Supreme Committee is the organizer of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup.
While fans are told in the agreement that they are not expected to be “speakers for Qatar”, they are asked not to “disparage the Supreme Committee of Qatar” or “World Cup Qatar 2022”.
Pierre Cornez, a press officer for the Belgian Football Association, says supporters also received “a free ticket for the first game and for the opening ceremony.”
He assures that the offer was not only made to the Belgians but to fans from “all the countries that are playing in this World Cup”.
It also asserts that not all fans who participated in the scheme ended up signing the agreement.
FIFA has repeatedly been criticized for awarding the World Cup to Qatar, given the country’s negative record on issues such as workers’ rights, the rights of LGTBI communities and freedom of expression.
This is why some independent and grassroots fan clubs believe that Qatar’s Fan Leader scheme is simply a try of to improve the image of the tournament
A member of the Fan Supporters Europe board, Martha Gens, says she has never heard of a major tournament using a scheme like this before.
“This is not a fan movement, it’s a fan fraud,” says Martha. “It’s weird, it’s cloudy, and it’s not right.”
However, the Supreme Committee defended the scheme, claiming: “This initiative has helped the Committee understand the needs and concerns of supporters in 59 different countries.
“You are under no obligation to post or share any content. All fans who visit Qatar as our guests do so voluntarily and free of charge.”
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