Crowds in Moscow make Qatar rethink 2022 World Cup plans

Peru fans cheer after their team won 2-0 during the group C match between Australia and Peru, at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, June 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

MOSCOW (AP) The big numbers of Latin American fans who came to Russia are making 2022 World Cup organizers rethink their own plans for Qatar.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in central Moscow even when their team was not playing. The much smaller city of Doha would be packed for the tournament’s first two weeks in November 2022 if the same occurred.

In the streets around Red Square, fans from Peru, Mexico and Argentina were a vibrant presence from days before the World Cup started.

”What we saw in Moscow, which has two stadiums, is that a city can be very quickly overwhelmed by big crowds,” senior Qatari official Nasser Al Khater said in the Russian capital. ”The fact you’re going to have the fans of 32 teams pretty much in a city, I think is going to be electrifying.”

With eight stadiums in Doha or within an hour of travel, the 28-day World Cup is sure to dominate the tiny emirate of only 2.58 million people.

”We want it to (take over Doha),” Al Khater said, adding one possible change. ”Seeing the people and how they move, trying to imagine how the traffic flow will be like in Qatar, we’re re-considering where we put our Fan Fest.”

A World Cup host city must have a hub for fans to meet and watch games on giant screens. Though Moscow has its Fan Fest south of the center, Qatar’s was planned in downtown Al Bidda Park next to Doha Bay.

”It’s in the wrong spot,” Al Khater said. ”It would get in the way actually of free flow of people.”

Doha will likely have to cope with more fans of European teams. They were fewer than expected in Russia, yet the semifinal lineup has four teams from the continent.

”I’m wondering, `Where are the European fans?”’ Al Khater said. ”I don’t know if it’s going to be the same when Qatar comes along. People regret not coming if they didn’t come. It was amazing football, amazing atmosphere.”

Qatari organizers have had 180 staff in Russia observing how to run a World Cup, and could keep one new feature in four years.

Visitors to Russia applied for a laminated Fan ID photo card to bypass entry visa rules. The process also allowed Russian authorities to screen people considered to be a security threat, and monitor who entered stadiums.

Some saw the ID system as a data protection risk, yet many fans embraced their laminates as though members of a World Cup club.

”We think it worked well. We are looking into the Fan ID, to see if it’s a way of making sure that we know who’s entering Qatar,” Al Khater said, describing Russia’s organization as impeccable. ”It’s going to be a high bar to beat.”

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