meIt’s got the big screen, thumping music and Fifa branding, but this is a fan zone with a difference. No visiting supporters, no women, no team colors and certainly no beer. The clue is on location: a cricket stadium on the outskirts of Doha. Inside, thousands of low-wage workers, mostly from South Asia, fill the stands or sit cross-legged on the pitch’s grass.
He is a world away from the polished face of Doha that most fans will see. The fan zone of the stadium is inside asian city, a purpose-built shopping and entertainment complex for Qatari migrant workers about 30 minutes’ drive from the city center. A vast expanse of warehouses, workshops and accommodation blocks stretches for miles to one side, housing hundreds of thousands of workers, often in bleak and crowded dormitories.
On a wall near the entrance to the fan zone, a banner in Arabic, English and Hindi reads: “Thank you for your contributions in bringing the best of FIFA. World Cup ever.”
Probably, many of those present participated in the construction of the stadiums and the infrastructure for the tournament, but gratitude has its limits. Although some tickets were put on sale for Qatar residents for just 40 riyals (£9), no one The Guardian spoke to had managed to get one. Whatever was available was too expensive for workers earning as little as £225 a month.
Without a match ticket, they cannot register for a Hayya card, which is needed to enter the main fan zones in Doha. Even if they could, the efficient and cheap Metro doesn’t reach this part of the city, forcing workers to take more expensive alternatives.
The fan zone, and Asian Town itself, highlight the parallel lives that many migrant workers inhabit. the critics say it strengthens divisionsthe unspoken message is: you can have your restaurants, shops and fan zone, as long as you don’t come to ours.
As the match between Spain and Costa Rica begins, Dilip Kumar Mandal of Nepal looks excited. “I come every night. I like the atmosphere,” he says. When he is asked which team he is rooting for, he pauses and says, “The red.”
“I would like to be in a stadium, but I don’t have money. Everything I earn I have to send home for my children’s education,” she adds.
Mandal, a bricklayer, is happy to be there. Before the World Cup started, 350 of his co-workers were sent home, as his company, like many others, ended their work in instructions of the government.
When Spain scores their first goal, he throws a punch into the air. “Yeah! I knew they would score,” he says, his face flushing red in the light from the giant screen.
Sitting nearby, Stephen* from Ghana works at the airport, transferring inflight meals to planes. It’s his day off, but during the week, “All I do is work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep,” he says. Like Dilip, he couldn’t afford a ticket to the game, but unlike him, he speaks football as fluently as the Spanish play it. When he scores another goal, he enthuses about Ghana’s chances: “I just hope I get off work to see them,” he says.
As halftime approaches, hundreds take to the stage and are soon rewarded, not by another goal, but by an MC and her four ballerinas. She gives a shout out to “My African friends,” before mentioning the other countries that make up the bulk of Qatar’s migrant workforce: India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
There are no team colors or flags on display. With the exception of Ghana, none of these nations qualified for the World Cup, so decisions on who to support seem to be determined by a favorite player or the color of a jersey.
In the stands, Mohammed Malik from Bangladesh says he comes to watch the games every day. He has nothing better to do. “My company stopped sending us to work because we can’t access our workplace during the World Cup. They have also stopped paying us,” says the 42-year-old carpenter.
Yam Kumar Rajbanshi, a forklift operator, is another fan zone regular. “I come every night. I love football more than cricket. Brazil is going to win, ”he says confidently. Rajbanshi, from Nepal, said a match ticket cost too much, half his monthly salary, but he didn’t seem to care. “It’s better to look here!”
As Spain walks to a 7-0 victory, the workers who helped make it possible return to their dormitories, a band of South Indian drummers sending them on their way.
* name change to protect the identity of the person