One year is left before the World Cup in Qatar. The tournament organizers are working on completing all preparations in time, having already invested more than 5 billion pounds.
The image of Neymar on every corner advertises the National Bank of Qatar, Robert Lewandowski has appeared in a commercial for the state airlines, and Ambassador of Qatar David Beckham will be heavily involved in the tournament's promo campaign when he arrives in the country for the Qatar Grand Prix.
"The fun is about to start. Are you ready?" asks the billboard at the exit from Hamad International Airport in Doha.
However, an investigation by the Daily Mail showed that the readiness of this tiny country for the upcoming tournament raises severe questions because, according to various estimates, it will have to host more than a million fans.
It is 11:00 in the morning. The heat is already unbearable when an Indian laborer, whom we will refer to as Hamad for convenience, walks to an excavator near Lusail Stadium with two of his colleagues. They wear the work uniforms of LandWorx, a privately-owned company registered in Qatar, for which they work here every day.
He has to get up at 4:00 in the morning to catch the regular bus, which leaves at 5:00 so that by 6:00, he will be out of work. The working day ends at sunset, and then he has another hour's journey back. He returns to the dorm by 6:00 pm, 14 hours after the start of his day. He makes ten a day, which is how much two coffees cost in one of the nearby malls.
Hamad is philosophical about wages and two unpaid hours on a dirty work bus. He accepted that he was tied to this place for 10 pounds a day for a whole year without the opportunity to change jobs. It upsets him that he will have to leave the country.
Foreign construction workers in Qatar recently learned that they would have to get out of the country before August to avoid being seen during the final preparations for the World Cup.
Many workers said they would be sent on five months of unpaid leave for this period. Only gardeners and cleaners will stay in Qatar during the World Cup.
"They didn't explain anything to us, and I need to pay the money; I don't know what to do if we have to leave and wait for the callback," Hamad said. "We don't know any details."
During Hamad's story, people in signal jackets come up to local foremen, it seems, and the conversation is interrupted. This happens every time we start talking to workers. It feels like everything is under supervision here. During our stay in Doha, they called us and said that we were recognized and asked what we were planning to write about.
The payments Hamad talks about are likely to go to Indian creditors. Many of these workers have borrowed 1,500 to pay for the opportunity to work here, as specified in their 12-month contracts. Some even had to sell the land for this.
"Until now, it is not clear under what conditions these migrants will be forced to leave and whether they will be able to return to work afterward," says May Romanos, researching migrant rights in the Gulf region at Amnesty International. "We know that many workers pay thousands of dollars in as an illegal payment to get the opportunity to work in Qatar and take this money on credit. Those who are expelled from the country may find themselves in significant debt. Qatar's Supreme Committee for the Conduct and Legacy of the 2022 World Cup, when asked about the forced county of workers, sent us to the Government's Public Relations Office, as they did not have the relevant information. The government did not answer us.
With many areas in Doha being dug up, a tremendous amount of work remains to be done in the next nine months. Lusail Stadium, nestled in the middle of a sea of sand, will not be ready for the Arab Cup, which kicks off November 30, and rehearsal for the World Cup.
The government has not said why there are so many ditches in the city ahead of the tournament, although this is due to concerns about Doha's drainage system. It practically does not rain here, but in October 2018, there was absolute chaos, when almost an annual rainfall fell in one day. Of course, a possible flood during the World Cup would be a disaster.
The more pressing problem at the moment is the construction of hotels. Hosting the world's second-largest sporting event in such a tiny country has always seemed like a daunting task, and even the plethora of new hotels currently under construction won't be enough.
The World Championship starts a year later with the match of the host country. To see how Qatar plans to accommodate all fans during the tournament, it's worth driving half an hour from Al Janoub Stadium, the southernmost of the eight. In the desert, right behind a chemical plant and an electrical substation, are campgrounds where wealthy Qataris have barbecues, camel rides and live like old Bedouins.
Fans are expected to happily spend several weeks in these tents, although it won't be cheap. In one of Saraba's camps, new steel structures were erected with stretched tarpaulins, with double beds and showers around barbecues. "They were erected with an eye to the World Championship," says the camp manager. "Perhaps even more of them will be reorganized specifically for the tournament."
He says they are already charging £ 150 a night here, including breakfast. There are still very few eateries here, although entertainment options include camel riding, paintball, ziplining, and football pitches.
A more affordable version of "desert housing" is expected to be available in the north, near the already completed Al Bayt stadium. So far, nothing indicates this. Two such tent camps, in theory, can accommodate from 10 to 15 thousand fans.
Also, there is no cruise ship's insight, which is supposed to serve as hotels on the water in the port of Doha. The contract for the construction of two liners for 2 thousand seats was signed with the Swiss company MSC Cruises. The port authorities say that traditional wooden boats can also be used for this purpose.
"There will be bus boats to bring fans from cruise ships to the stadiums," says one port official self-confidently. "Sounds crazy, but this is Qatar. Money decides everything here."
Get ready for tents and boats because hotel prices will be cosmic here. Tour operators are still practically unable to book rooms in hotels since all their attempts are blocked by the Organizing Committee of the World Cup. "It will be expensive; in some cases, they require you to book for at least six months, which is absurd," says one operator.
Qatar is home to nearly 300,000 locals and over 2 million expatriates and immigrants. To cope with this number of visitors, Qatar has signed an agreement with the French hotel operator Accor to provide 10,000 employees who will serve 60,000 apartments and villas.
It is difficult to imagine how Qatar can accommodate fans from 32 countries. Fans can choose to stop in Dubai and take 70-minute flights to the matches in Qatar.
Qataris represent the small size of their country as an opportunity to attend several matches in one day - which is further proof of how strange this World Cup will be. Our test drive with the new metro system showed that a fan could attend almost all four matches of the matchday in the group stage with a good pair of shoes and, in some cases, using shuttle buses. A daily metro ride currently costs £ 2.
We were guided by the second game day at the World Championship for the experiment. We have a leisurely breakfast on schedule, followed by a match at 13:00 at Al Janoub. After a series of transfers on the green, red and gold metro lines, as well as bus rides at both ends, you can get to the Education Stadium, where the match starts at 16:00, at 19:00 - the game at the Ras Abu Abud stadium right on the shore sea. At 22:00, the game begins at Lusail Stadium, located at the northern end of the red line.
To observe the local hierarchy, a metro worker in uniform approached us and asked us to leave the platform section, which was reserved for passengers of the "golden" first-class. However, the train is empty, and there are no passengers in the luxurious seats. Let them try to defend these golden wagons when the world championship begins.
For many, a typical day at the World Cup includes attending one match and walking around exciting places, anticipating experiencing what has already been seen. Doha would be an attractive tournament venue for Middle Eastern teams. While the cornice gardens, the historic narrow alley on Souk Waqif, and the new squares on Msheireb are awe-inspiring, this will not be enough for tens of thousands of fans who will not want to return to the boat or tent early.
Concerns about a ban on alcohol in Qatar seem exaggerated. There will be cheap beer in fan zones, but most hotels sell it anyway. Heat won't be a problem either. December weather in Qatar corresponds to June weather in Britain; rain is also possible, which the organizers are afraid of.
But the practices at the Hilton Hotel in the affluent West Bay area show how alien and unsettling it can seem to those who don't share the Qatari worldview. The LGBT community has already heard about the warnings about Qatar, where homosexuality is prohibited by law. Don't divulge your orientation to a stranger. Don't show intimacy in public. Use a VPN to access related sites or apps. The usual attempt at the Hilton's reception to order lunch at a local bar for two men - a correspondent and a photographer for the Daily Mail - was a revelation. The hotel initially refused us. We managed to get the concierge to call his superiors through our efforts. "There are two gentlemen here. Together. What should I do?" - he asked. We were reluctantly allowed to take a table.
The negative perception in the world still worries the people of Qatar. Several new people at the head of the government confirm this fact. The Ministry of Labor was created, headed by Dr. Ali al-Marri, well-known in human rights circles, and considered progressive. Mariam al-Musnad, who became famous for organizing a shelter for women victims of abuse, became Minister of Social Development and Family.
While Qatar trumpets its modernization, the country does not provide basic rights for the foreign workers responsible for constructing this huge event. Two years ago, the Daily Mai reported dire conditions for workers in Al-Shihaniyah, 10 miles outside Doha. We saw 10 Indian men huddled in a smelly room where the beds were joined together by cots. The situation in Al-Shihaniyah has not changed since then.
Even if one foreign worker talks in the media about an amateur football team where immigrants and Qataris play together, it seems that the two worlds exist in parallel. Qataris don't even check for manual labor. They don't even bother that some immigrants are given completely meaningless jobs.
There is a new cycle path along with the Lusail Stadium that runs directly to downtown Doha, and an electronic counter tracks the number of people using it: 238 this year, or 0.7 per day. At the final metro station at Lusail Stadium, a worker drives a mop across an immaculate floor that has barely been stepped on.
Nowhere are these two parallel worlds seen better than in the match between the two leaders of the local championship - Al-Duha'il and Al-Sadd.
There is a loud noise from Al-Sadd's fans, although it comes from foreign fans, primarily Africans, who are gathered in one sector. A thousand or so Qatari al-Sadd fans sit quietly and at a distance in their industry. The same is true for the fans of Al-Duhail, where only immigrants make noise.
Al-Sadd's outraged Africans are here for the sake of André Ayew, a French-born Ghanaian who was bought from Swansea City this year. They all wear IU T-shirts and only started getting ready after his uncle, Qatar Airways, wrote to the Ghanaian communities on WhatsApp and Facebook to urge them to support his nephew.
"We are great patriots," says one of the organizers, Martin Dzediku, who works as a commercial manager. "There are more than 7,000 Ghanaians here, and they all love Aya. It was quiet here before we came." The same goes for Al Duha'il's African supporters, who support Michael Olungu, the Kenyan striker acquired last year from Japanese club Kashiwa Repsol.
Qatari fans are more restrained by throwing confetti from the white sheets of paper they pluck from their notebooks and singing them surprises, although it brings pleasure.
"They are a real comedy," says 24-year-old Qatari fan Al-Sadda, Saud, who points to the Africans. Like that. We're not real ultras. "
Saud, who works for the government's Department of Housing, disagrees that Qatari fans are isolated. "No, I don't think so. Fans can sit wherever they want," he says. However, the situation at the stadium shows otherwise.
Even teenage Qatari fans agree that singing and dancing at football matches is not for them. "We're humble," says 15-year-old Faris. "We need to find fans for the World Cup."
It is a crucial match, the last one for coach Al-Sadd Xavi before he leaves for Barcelona, but not many present care about it. At one point, someone shouts Xavi's name into the loudspeaker, the others support him, but soon it all dies down.
The fight confirms its status, ending in a draw of 3: 3, and the last goal in the 89th minute was scored by Olunga, but only 3 thousand people are watching him. The stadium is half empty.
The question is how Qatar will fill such expensive stadiums and create an atmosphere for matches when the biggest football tournament kicks off in 12 months.
Indeed, like most others here, this question will be solved with the help of money. "There are rumors that the Qatar Football Association plans to hire ultras to create noise," Saud said. "Here's the answer. Yes, they probably have to."