Dai Rees is a Newcastle United fan of proud Welsh heritage who loves following club and country. He has been out to Qatar for the Wales games and this is his experience of the tournaments and his reflections on a once in a lifetime trip to the Middle Eastern country for football’s biggest festival.
You can follow Dai – @colemans_dream
I know this is an unpopular thing to say, but I did. The people were incredibly friendly, both the locals and others who weren’t Qatari. The apartments we booked were both decently priced and pleasant. We were miles away from the city but there were free buses, trams and even free taxis in certain areas. The Corniche area was a great walk and had representation from each of the World Cup countries. As we entered the Souq market area, we were transported back in time into the upgraded “old town” of Doha and wandered around the winding maze of the market itself.
It was a combination of modern, beautiful, culturally interesting and traditionally Arabic in equal measure.
I am also puzzled by those people who are frustrated that when they booked accommodation to stay in a tent in the desert, that when they arrived, they realised they were staying in a tent in the desert. I don’t know what you expected to see there. Equally, those who were staying in storage containers in the desert. It’s a storage container in the desert. Did you expect to arrive to a 5* hotel?
There’s a lot about this World Cup which strikes me as people from the western world, complaining that a trip to the Middle East is a lot like a trip to the Middle East. I went to Austria for Greece v. Spain in Euro 2008. The “official” accommodation was a large convention centre, with plastic camp beds, no towels or sheets or access to showers and pillows were a luxury they ran out of by the time we arrived. Each “room” was separated by a large plastic sheet with no roof, and we shared with two random lads. There was no secure place to leave your belongings. Before we hammer Qatar for what they provided, I have experienced much worse “official” accommodation elsewhere, in the west.
It was expensive over there, but with a little research and chatting to others you could do a little hotel crawl of happy hours and save yourself a few quid. It was about 4.5 Riyals to a pound. The best we found was 25 Riyals for a pint. Not too different from London prices, as an example. We met and chatted to fans from all over the world, many of whom wished us well. From the Mexicans hoping we’d beat the Americans to a few Irish lads who lived in Doha and hoped Wales could turn over the English – Ireland is with you they shouted, as we sang another chorus of Yma O Hyd. The Argentines and Brazilians were loud everywhere they went and the Japanese fans were a great laugh. It was a national and football celebration.
For as much as I enjoyed the interactions, it was a chance to celebrate being Welsh.
Bucket hats as far as the eye could see. Random shouts of “Gareth Bale” from balconies across the city and plenty of questions about why England and Wales aren’t the same. It was a chance to experience something a generation of Welsh people had never experienced. I was also lucky enough to sing our anthem for the first time EVER at the World Cup (when Wales played in Sweden in 1958, God Save the Queen was sung) and experienced the overwhelming feeling of seeing Gareth Bale score a penalty – what turned out to be our only goal of the tournament.
It was beyond special. As I sat and shed a tear our adventure was over after a fairly humbling defeat to England, I could reflect on a special 6-years for Welsh football. Two European tournaments, a semi final and a World Cup performance. It’s been unforgettable.
The thing is, the word unforgettable is something which cannot be escaped at the World Cup, which in so many ways is a future case study of what not to do. I cannot forget the thousands of people who died building stadiums and hotels. I cannot forget the millions of pounds and Euros which changed hands to hand Qatar this tournament, and how this World Cup shows how power and money have ran roughshod over the beautiful game.
I cannot forget my friend, a prominent member of the Red Wall’s LGBTQ community, telling me that she wasn’t allowed into the stadium because her bucket hat had the rainbow colours on it. She had written support from the FAW and FIFA telling her she wouldn’t be stopped for entering the ground if she wore this hat. She was.
I cannot forget how women are treated in Qatar on a day to day basis and I cannot forget for all the great times and smiles I received, a lot of that is likely because I’m a straight white male.
Worst of all, It cannot forget how we have spurned this opportunity to sit down with the people who we perceive to be so damaging and try and reason with them and their views. I cannot forget how we failed to understand the perspectives of others, even if they don’t change their ways, and I cannot forget that – for all the cries of “I’m going to Qatar to stand up for what’s right” – the silence from many “outspoken” broadcasters has been deafening.
What is the true cost of this tournament? It’s difficult to quantify, especially as I don’t believe it is down to the average football fan to find an answer. I didn’t receive any cash filled envelopes. I don’t pander to these people we demonise, like our political leaders do, through necessity or otherwise.
I’m just a person who likes football. For whom following Newcastle United and Wales across land and sea is my favourite thing. If you want answers for the awful things happening in all corners of the earth, we could do worse things than reflect on the poverty, racism, self serving and impotent leadership existing within our own shores as a starting point
The eyes of the world were on Qatar and all I can say, with confidence, is that for the most part they’ve delivered a good tournament in my experience. I had a great trip.
You can call me “sports-washed” if you like, because to an extent I was and am.
For sure, something needs to change. Because before long, the beautiful game will be very different to what Jules Rimet imagined when he dreamt of a World Cup.
But I loved it. I really did.
Dai Rees – @colemans_dream