DOHA, Qatar — If you’re watching the World Cup from home, you can become numb to the brilliance of athletic feats that drive the world’s fascination. But away from the stadiums, the World Cup — every World Cup — has a distinct local flavor. Far from the manicured lawns of the tournament’s eight gleaming stadiums, New York Times photographers documented the flavor of the first Arab World Cup.
The fans are the heartbeat of any World Cup. They come from all over the world, in varying numbers, but some countries — like Mexico, Argentina and, this year, Saudi Arabia — really represent. Flags and scarves and jerseys carry hope and optimism through the streets and the market, but it doesn’t always end well: Mexico is out, despite earning its first win, 2-1 against Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday night in Lusail.
Where do all the million-plus fans go when they’re not filling the stadiums with their voices and drumbeats? Fan zones, like the ones in Doha and Lusail, offer gathering places filled with entertainment and spectacle.
Despite the variety of national loyalties, it’s not uncommon for rooting interests to blur into one: fans from Morocco joining forces with supporters from Saudi Arabia; Americans posing for photographs with Iranians; the colors of Brazil and England at either end of the same bench.
The Souq Waqif, Doha’s purposefully vintage marketplace, is one of the most popular destinations for World Cup visitors. The traditional market, rebuilt to look old, offers plenty of authentic dining options, but also shops selling clothes, spices, household goods and, if you’re in the market for one, falcons.
Soccer pervades every scene these days, from children dashing back and forth with a ball at their feet to adults in thobes showing off their skills on a patch of artificial turf.
Accommodations vary nearly as much as the people who stay in them. A cruise ship, docked along Doha’s waterfront, has been repurposed as a hotel for a month. Tents at the Al Khor fan village were being marketed as “Arabian camping”; you can book one, but it will set you back more than $400 a night. A more cost-sensitive option is one of the parks filled with rows of shipping containers closer to the action. Looming behind it all, in downtown Doha, are the highest-priced options. The Katara Towers in Lusail comprise two hotels. One is home to FIFA’s executive class for the duration of the World Cup.
Stepping away from the shine of Doha, there’s another side of Qatari life in Al Khor, the country’s second-biggest city but one removed from the World Cup’s hustle and bustle in Doha.