Episode #25 of NAVIGATE discusses travel safety during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 games.
Safe Travel Series: FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
0:00:04 – 0:00:48
|Hello, my name is Kate Fitzpatrick. I’m the Regional Security Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa with World Travel Protection, and I’m going to be your host for this episode of NAVIGATE. We’re under a month away from the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and hosted in these games in Doha, Qatar means the experience is going to be slightly different for the fans who’ve attended World Cups in the past. Around 1.5 million football fans are expected to descend on the small gulf states, normally home to fewer than 3 million people. And this is for the World Cup, which commences the 21st of November.|
Here to help me discuss things all Qatar is Andy James, and he’s one of World Travel Protection’s team leaders. And Andy lived in Doha, Qatar for over 10 years. Hi, Andy, thank you for being here today to tell us about your experience in living in Qatar. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
0:00:49 – 0:01:51
|Hi Kate, thank you for having me. So yeah, you’re right. I lived in Qatar for 10 years, moved back to the UK the back end of last year. I was working out there in a government position for the health care system, and Qatar Amiri Guard where we were providing health care and close medical support to certain eligible individuals. And I worked in a number of different roles from being close or protection medic to more sort of operations coordination role.|
I was very fortunate to move out there for a role when Qatar had just been awarded the World Cup and left, you know, a year before and was able to see all of that infrastructure development in Qatar during that period. So yeah, very exciting time for them very interesting to actually witness that up close and personal and see those changes. And actually also looking forward to going back there in December when I go to attend a couple of the games and actually see it for real, you know, the sort of finished article. So, yeah.
0:01:52 – 0:02:56
|Cool. Thank you. That’s amazing. I mean, the fact that you’re going back there, and you’ll see the differences from when you left to now will be brilliant. And also you get to enjoy the World Cup. So that’s amazing. Thank you. Thanks for the introduction.|
Anyway today, what I’m going to talk to you about if that’s okay is some of the top tips for the traveller, who may be attending the World Cup of Qatar, and how to remain safe and secure as possible. I’d like to touch on a few points that will hopefully give some insight for people that are traveling to Qatar. And what I’m looking at is the reality in Qatar against what we hear and see in the media today.
The first topic I’d like to mention is the dress code. This is both male and female, how strict is it? What would your advice be? Bear in mind the weather, the temperature. And also I’ve heard and seen in the local media that we’re seeing in the UK now is we’re seeing some stories regarding tourists being accosted by local Qatarians because they weren’t dressed appropriately in a mall or they were walking on the street and they weren’t dressed appropriately and they were literally attacked for wearing what they wore. Firstly, what is your view on how strict it is both for male and female?
0:02:56 – 0:06:54
|I think over the last 10 years, they in certain aspects have maybe become a little bit more liberal in terms of the sort of dress code that you will see people you know, wearing on a day to day basis. Early on when I moved out there, for sure I certainly saw not males sort of accosting males, but female Qataris accosting sort of Western females who they deemed to be dressed inappropriately, generally shoulders exposed in short skirts or very short shorts in a public place. But admittedly, in my last few years, that was something I’ve witnessed less and less, and I don’t know, genuinely, whether that’s a combo – whether it’s individually, a case of the country have become more liberal in their views because of the volume of Westerners in the country and the volume of Qataris who spent a lot of their education or travel quite extensively in Europe and North America. So and you know, more accepting of those influences within their own culture.|
I think, ultimately, the World Cup is going to bring a different sort of attitude and sort of understanding for the dress code and the other elements as well. You know, the expectation is that you’re going to see a lot of people in football shirts, right, you’re going to see tourists from all over the world. And whilst the expectation is that they will abide by and adhere to sort of cultural standards and expectations in Qatar, and that is what the Qataris are hopeful will be the case. I think there is an understanding that with the football fan and football culture that it is going to bring people wearing shorts and wearing football shirts, and that will be applied to males and females.
The weather is also something to take into consideration you know, we’ve a World Cup in November to December. Historically, there was a lot discussed early on when they got the World Cup about how they were going to run that in the heat and you know, all the stadiums are being fully air conditioned. But that is less of an issue that time of the year, you know, people can expect temperatures in the early 20s to mid 20s, at the absolute tops during the day, and actually in November is often when we begin to see the heavy rains coming in. So for any travellers, I would always advise as well to actually make sure that you’re not necessarily packing warm kit, but certainly packing, you know, lots of water proofs.
Yeah, absolutely be prepared, you know, an all weather jacket, because it may well rain early on in the tournament, as you move into December, the latest phases of the competition is not going to be such an issue. I don’t think I ever saw a cloud in December when I when I lived there. And the temperatures were generally around 23 to 25 degrees during the day, it dropped maybe 10 degrees at night.
But going back specifically to the dress code, I think when you’re in public places outside of the football match days, the expectation will still be that people adhere to those rules, government buildings for men and women, you know, you won’t be able to enter if you’re in shorts. And if you’re in vests, you know, that’s non negotiable security won’t allow you in should you need to do so. But the likelihood of tourists going into those sort of facilities are probably quite low.
So realistically, we’re looking at what people are wearing when they’re going about their business day to day and when they’re in shopping malls. And we’re expecting an uplift in in tourism. So, you know, in the shopping malls, whether women are going to be accosted for showing shoulders or showing ankles, I would say genuinely, it would be very, very unlikely. I think it’s more likely that that’s something that would be not necessarily turned a blind eye to, but something that is more accepted, given the volume of tourism from, you know, North America, and particularly Europe and South America that we’re gonna see over there.
0:06:55 – 0:07:16
|That’s a really good explanation, Andrew, thank you. So what we’re kind of sort of saying I’m gonna summarize is that because of the World Cup and expectations, and a lot of the travelers that have descended on into Qatar, sorry, are from where they are in the world and is a little bit more liberal, it’s likely that we may see a little bit more of a leniency given for this six week tournament.|
0:07:17 – 0:08:31
|I think it’s, you know, the Qataris, a lot has been discussed about how they’re going to cope and deal with those sort of influences coming into the country. You know, they have asked that people respect their culture when they go in, which is right. But I think realistically, they are preparing themselves, and have been preparing themselves for Western tourism and how those individuals would dress when they are in Europe. And, and the sort of the dress codes that the Qataris are used to seeing when they travel to Europe in the summer, and actually, in large part themselves would dress the same as well. Certainly, historically, with the work colleagues I was with when we would travel to Europe for work, they wouldn’t wear traditional dress, you know, they would be dressed in more European – sort of European summer attire.|
So I think for sure that you know, that there would be some leniency. But the major concern is going to be should you need to be going into government buildings, hospitals included, actually, you know, shorts and vests unless it’s in an emergency situation, they’re not going to be allowed in. So that’s something just to bear in mind. But on, you know, match days football shirts and shorts are going to be, you know, it’s going to be the order of the day really, isn’t it?
0:08:32 – 0:09:04
|That’s cool. Very informative, it’s important for people to know that, you know, even the hospitals, you won’t be allowed in, if you’ve got, you know, your shoulders open and, or I even read that your knees have got to be covered, you know, and if you’re thinking about that type of temperature, it’s kind of like European summer, which is lovely, it’s actually really lovely temperature, and people would probably be in vest tops in Europe. So they’ve got to be mindful of this, when they’re thinking about what what they’re doing and where they’re going. Even the shopping malls in Qatar, they’re beautiful, they’re amazing. But you’ve got to be covered up not like you can’t walk around in shorts and a vest.|
0:09:04 – 0:09:58
|Absolutely. And some of the hotel restaurants and bars which is where a lot of the tourism is going to be centred on you know, match days and in between match days. They’re also going to be blocking entry to people if they’re you know, not deemed to be dressed suitably.|
Qatar – a lot of the bars in some of the five real high level hotels, they have relatively strict dress codes and that aren’t even based on sort of cultural standards. It’s just an expectation that if you are having dinner at Nobu or Hakkasan or one of the you know, the very sort of top tier Michelin starred restaurants that you aren’t going to have to be wearing you know, collared shirt and you’re going to be you know, have to wear trousers and no sports shoes, you know, things like that are – they still carry over to Qatar even though it may not seem as a traditional holiday destination when you travel over, the expectation will be that you will have to dress smart in those sort of facilities.
0:09:59 – 0:10:34
|And to be fair I’ve seen that to be fair in a lot of places in the UAE, in general, not just Qatar, you go into a five star establishment, and it’s, for whatever reason, you’re expected to wear trousers and cover your arms, you know, female or male. It’s the kind of the class and against the culture as well. So it’s the two together effectively. On that topic, Andy, I just want to confirm, and I’ve been reading things on where people are going to be staying in hotels, and I read that there is an exception to this dress code when you’re in a hotel, and you may be sunbathing or by the pool bar, that you will be in a swimsuit. What’s your, what’s your experience of this? Is that okay?|
0:10:36 – 0:11:30
|Yeah for sure, you know, 100%, when you’re around, you look at any hotel out there any of the big chain hotels, and they’re all there pretty much. What you see out the front, and how people are dressed and how they’re going about their business versus what you see, you know, the other side of the hotel, around the pools or around the beach areas where the hotels are situated. It is entirely westernized. It’s as we understand that in terms of its swimming shorts, it’s bikinis, it’s all of that. There is no dress code expectation in those sorts of environments.|
You may see very commonly, you will see local females in more conservative swimming attire. But for the most part, males, Qataris and non-Qataris will be in swimming shorts and trunks. So yeah, you know, that would be exactly how you’d expect it to be if you’re in a holiday destination.
0:11:30 – 0:12:24
|And that’s good for the traveller, you know, because at least even if they’re away from the hotel, and they are in a shopping mall, or they are in a hospital, or they are at the football games in the stadium, they’ve got to adhere to the certain rules, but at least they can know that when they go back to the hotel, they’ve got that kind of escape to be able to be in that environment, then it’s okay to do that. So that’s that’s a good point, really.|
Thank you, Andy, I’m gonna move on to next one: foul language. Quite big in Europe. To be fair, it’s kind of a common, a common language. To be fair, again, I’ve been doing some reading and research about it. And again, it’s something that is deemed extremely offensive. What I’m seeing, and I would like your opinion of it. I mean, I’ve seen that you could even be arrested if somebody like police or somebody complains about you, and they hear this foul language in a public forum or in an environment or the people here that you can actually be arrested for it. Is that correct?
0:12:25 – 0:15:25
|Yeah, for sure it’s frowned upon without a doubt, and it is probably, it’s deemed less socially acceptable, if it is socially acceptable in Europe, but it’s, it’s definitely less socially acceptable in Qatar. I mean, I haven’t personally witnessed anybody being accosted by the police for it. And I haven’t seen anybody accosted by locals for speaking like that.|
But for sure, we’ve we’ve been work colleagues, you know, the Qatari local national colleagues that I had, and worked alongside, it just wasn’t language they used just wasn’t, you know, what was very normal to us. Even if it’s in a joking more of it’s sort of a term of endearment and how we might use that language with each other. It’s just, it’s just not in their culture, it’s just not in their vocabulary, it may appear very unusual for us.
And you know, even if you’re watching football, even when two local teams are playing top tier teams, and you know, you might be in a bar, and there may be a local sitting in there, watching the game, even if they get quite vocal, whether that be in English or Arabic, they’re not using what we would see as being curse words, it’s just, it’s just not viable for them, and they will frown upon it.
And it goes similar to when we’re talking about the dress code. I’m not saying that this is something that they’re going to turn a blind eye to it. But it’s something of course, you know, they are preparing themselves for the influx of fans. And they are readying themselves, understanding that whilst they want people to respect their values, the reality is the vast majority, of course, will do. But you’re gonna have a lot of football fans in one place.
And not all the tickets, you know, let’s take any game that’s got 60 to 80,000 people viewing, the vast majority of those people watching those games will actually be local nationals, or from the Middle East and North Africa. They will be Arab Muslims, they will have certain expectations for behaviour. The western fans, even if it was a, let’s just say, an England versus France game, the actual English and French fans are very likely to be outnumbered by local nationals during those games just because of the ticket allocation.
So, you know, the expectation is that when you’re in that stadium, you do try to abide by their values and culture. But whether that’s going to be the case or not, you know, only time will tell but I think it’s very unlikely that if isolated incidents of bad language that you would find yourself in trouble, but if you were acting, that sort of perceived English hooligan type fan behaviour, again, I think it’s very likely that you would be removed from the stadium as a bare minimum, I’m not saying that being arrested is going to be a certainty. But I think a removal from the stadium and away from particularly local national fans, then is a very realistic possibility.
0:15:26 – 0:15:58
|So it’s something that we need to consider in terms of just the behaviour of the general people around you, whether it be police or like you’ve just said a local national, which is likely to be because, like you said, there, the majority of people with these tickets are going to be UAE, and they’re coming in for these games, and the rest of the people are going to be in the minority.|
However, we need to look at the behaviour of how people conduct themselves, wherever they are, because it is offensive there and it’s not something they’re used to. And the repercussions could be quite bad. You don’t want to pay for a ticket and not getting the game or get chucked out of the game, do you.
0:15:59 – 0:17:30
|You know that behaviour, particularly say we take England fans during the European championship last year and the Wembley Stadium, the final, you know, there was trouble there, that seemed to cause quite a bit of concern in Qatar, you know, I was out there at the time. And I could see while sitting in a bar watching the final and there were local nationals in there watching the game, as well as other other nationalities.|
And it did reflect very poorly on the England fans, because, strangely enough, it wasn’t something that they frowned way from showing on being sport, which is the Al Jazeera, you know, sports channels out there, they showed the trouble that was happening outside the stadiums. And you could just see, in and around the local guys who were in the pub watching it, just the faces, you know, showed everything, a lot of tut’s and a lot of, you know, headshaking, you know, they could you could see sort of disgust at that level of behaviour.
And it had this sort of knock on effect of, yes, they were already like the police and, you know, all the various emergency response units out there, who were already practicing and getting ready to deal with that sort of behaviour, maybe not necessarily had a rethink, but escalated that sort of training in their focus, to really bring up their understanding of what the likely scenarios are going to be when new fans come over. And you know, England fans, unfortunately, were were used as that kind of example of the worst-case scenarios over there. So something to be aware of.
0:17:30 – 0:18:58
|And one thing I can add to that is, I remember that the Turkish police are actually being deployed here for some assistance in a police environment. And they’ve been there training. I know that from the UK football side of things that there’s been a lot of hostility in the past where English teams have been over in Istanbul and different places in Turkey. And there’s been fights and you know, and they’ve seen it with their own eyes. So they’ve got a zero tolerance kind of mentality. And that’s in Turkey. And this is Qatar, which in my opinion, is another level higher in respect level, because they’re not used to seeing what they have in Turkey, because it’s been an ongoing thing. So it’s kind of like the police that are coming from Turkey to help assist with with the policing and everything around that in Qatar, they’ve seen this with their own eyes, so they’re kind of already prepared for what they might see.|
That said, doesn’t mean it’s also going to be acceptable, because people go in are going to have to be aware that ignorance is not an excuse, you know, we can’t do that we’ve got to understand where we’re going, and what could happen if you act like this. And you act like that. So we’ve got to, we’ve got to make sure that the traveller is aware of these little intricacies that we need to educate on before they travel so that we can give them the best knowledge to become. And that’s a prime example. You know, just you might have been to a football match in Brazil or in Turkey. It’s a very different entity here, because it’s the very first time it’s been done in this kind of Muslim country in Qatar. So it’s going to be new for them. And it’s new for the fans as well. So it’s gonna be quite interesting how it evolves to be honest, but it’s gonna be it’s gonna be historic, at the least.
0:18:59 – 0:21:56
|Yeah, yeah, for sure. You know, I mean, completely separate discussion, really, you know, the sort of the how Qatar got the World Cup and those sort of discussions, you know, for me haven’t been out there during that whole period. And I was quite excited about that and seeing that. And, you know, for me, it’s irrelevant whether or not they host the World Cup, they are hosting World Cup. This is happening now, alright? We’re very close to it. And you know, a lot of people out there particularly are excited and having the World Cup and some other issues that Qatar have had with the regional neighbours in the last few years have really accelerated Qatar’s growth and development you know, massively exponentially that it may well not have experienced had it not been given the World Cup and had it not had its issues with you know, Saudi and the UAE and thankfully now as we go into the World Cup, those relationships have mostly healed and things are very positive.|
We’re gonna see a lot of Saudi fans come over and UAE fans and Bahrain and all the way throughout the Middle East and the GCC, as well. There’s North Africa, of course, there’s a lot of Tunisians, Moroccans, and Algerians in Qatar anyway, but you will see others because they’re huge football in fans, you know, as a nation that will pour into Qatar as well. And one thing that they have been doing is, and you’re right, one of the benefits of bringing in Turkish police is that they’re used to policing those big games, you know, the Galatasaray or Beşiktaş – the really heavy rivalries that historically have blown up, right and has been huge trouble. And these are games that are attended by 50-60,000 people now, regularly, you know, and their league is very well attended and watched, you know, Qatar, however, they’ve never had those sorts of numbers at regular football fixtures, and football violence, and hooliganism just isn’t a problem. So they’re not policed in the same way as they are.
And, you know, if you take the two sort of Qatar stars league top teams when they play each other, maybe you get 12 to 15,000 people watching those games, you know, historically, when they bring European teams over for friendly fixtures, then they’re filling their stadiums to 40-50,000 people, but that’s a rarity. So it’s a good initiative to bring in Turkish police officers to assist in the policing, but also representatives from police forces all over Europe, you know, there are going to be in a more consultancy role, I think it’s very unlikely you’re going to see British police officers patrolling out there, you may well do, but they’re going to be there, they’re going to be consulting, as well as the French, Spanish, Italians – they’re all sending policing contingents out there to support the Qatari in some way in dealing with their own fans. So, you know, I think, you know, the Qataris have got this wide up very tight in terms of how much time, effort, money they’ve put into managing this event. So yeah, it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be interesting, it’s going to be very exciting.
0:21:57 – 0:22:14
|I agree. I mean, they haven’t necessarily had the exposure, like you’ve just mentioned, like Turkey, and the UK and Europe and Brazil, they haven’t had that exposure. And that’s why they’ve had to call upon police forces and military backup, and hopefully, it’s gonna set a standard for the future. But it’s definitely going to be interesting, I’m keeping a keen eye on it on it, Andy, I really am.|
0:22:14 – 0:22:56
|It’s the world game, at the end of the day, and I don’t see anything wrong with having that in, in somewhere, you know, it’s all very arrogant attitude to sort of expect that a World Cup will always be within Europe or South America, you know, it should be – other countries should be able to host it if they can demonstrate that they can support the infrastructure, but most importantly, that travellers can go over there and be safe whilst doing that.|
That’s the most important thing. What is in place for travellers? Is the health care there? Is the security there? How are things going to be in the airport, you know, all these things need to be factored in. If the country can support that, then they should be eligible to host the World Cup.
0:22:57 – 0:23:50
|I agree with you, Andy, I do. I think it’s gonna be interesting if this comes off well, in the future, what we might see. I think that’s a really good thing, you know? Yeah, absolutely.|
Moving on to the next point. And this is probably one of the big top topics, really, alcohol consumption. So I know and I’ve read a lot of research on this, that alcohol is not, it’s not illegal, however, it’s a zero tolerance. And we need to understand the difference of what that means to the traveller.
As I’ve also researched, and I’ve reached out to my contacts, and they’re saying it is an offence to be drunk in public. Okay, what does that mean? Whereas public? What does that – How is that defined? Is that going to be a football stadium? Is it going to be the highway? Is it giving them all? Is it the hotel? So we need to look at how we would define that – I want to reach on your experience to sort of what is your take on this from your experience about alcohol and in Qatar, in general.
0:23:51 – 0:27:31
|So unlike Saudi and Kuwait, alcohol is not illegal in Qatar, but it’s confined to very certain licensed facilities. So that is predominantly within licensed bars and restaurants within hotels, okay. Ten years ago, they did experiment with licensing some bars and restaurants outside of hotels, but due to poor behaviour of not just expats, but other nationalities who are based in Qatar more permanently, you know, access that and due to a very brief uptick in things such as drink driving, that all came crashing down very quickly. So it was confined again, just to hotels and bars and to the individual. So an individual who lives there, can obtain a license to purchase alcohol and have that in their own home, all right.|
Now during the World Cup, the only thing that’s going to change from that are going to be the fan zones, all right. You will still be able to purchase alcohol within the – within bars and restaurants that are licensed within the hotels, and then you’re going to be able to access alcohol in certain fan zones. I believe at the last count, they were opening six fan zones in different areas. Some were going to be licensed, others were not, which is a great initiative, because what that means is, it’s effectively going to separate Qataris and other non drinking nationalities from those who are.
So it means ultimately that the police can police those areas that alcohol was more available. And the West, the Qataris, Middle Eastern, North Africans, who don’t want to be involved in that don’t want to be exposed to that can go to the non licensed fan zones that are going to be in prescribed areas throughout the country.
Now people can go on to sites like What’s Going On Qatar on Instagram, and scroll through posts on there and find out where these venues are located, if they’re traveling, but they’re not actually going to a game on that particular day. So we’ll know which fan zones should they want to drink alcohol, which one that they should be going to and if they don’t, which ones they should avoid, effectively.
My understanding is that you will be able to get alcohol in the stadium. And I believe that it’s a sponsorship licensing thing that is very difficult to delink yourself from if you are hosting the World Cup being that people like Budweiser, you know, pour huge amounts of advertising into it, whether you’ll be able to drink at your seat or not, I believe is not – that’s going to be prohibited. But you will be able to like most football stadiums in the UK now where you can get a drink down in a bar in the stadium, but it stays there. Not like at the rugby where you can, you know, take it to your seat.
So yeah, alcohol will be accessible when you’re talking about drunk in public. Yeah, so you know, this is going to be a difficult one. And probably one of the biggest challenges for the police in the security forces out there is dealing with the drinking in the stadium and around the stadium. And probably, more importantly, is the travelling and sort of movement of people, between locations between hotels, city centres, using public transport and getting to the stadiums, which expectation is going to be on people, all of those are going to be considered public areas.
0:27:32 – 0:27:34
|That’s where the risk is, isn’t it really?|
0:27:34 – 0:29:17
|Yeah, when you’re very drunk and disorderly, you can expect to be arrested. If you walking from the stadium, and you are in a very drunken state, you can expect to be picked up now, my understanding of how they’re going to treat those individuals we’ve heard a lot about in the media, some have said that there’s going to be cooling off areas where they’re going to be taken to and I know that was discussed quite heavily, it was almost like other pen that if you could do such a thing. And I believe that’s the sort of thing they have a Oktoberfest in some tents as well, when people get to kind of remove, removed to a pen to kind of sober up for a bit. And once they’ve proven that they can behave themselves then they’re sort of allowed access back into the facility.|
So I have heard that that was going to be one of the sort of measures that they were taken, I think, to be arrested, you know, I think walking from one location to another drunk, as long as you’re behaving yourself is not going to land you in trouble. If you’re walking with an open alcohol container, that’s a different matter. You know, you will have that confiscated. I don’t believe you’d get arrested simply because it’s highly likely that there’s going to be large numbers of crowds who were trying to do that, right, who are going to try to smuggle beer between point A and the stadium or from fan zone to the stadium.
So it’s more than likely that it’s just going to be confiscated and removed from you. And you know, if you argue with the police or security forces about that, then you rightly so expect to be arrested, right. And that’s not that shouldn’t be confined to something that Qatar does. That should just generally be the standard of behaviour and how that’s policed football game, right?
0:29:17 – 0:30:24
|Yeah. I’ve read recently that the Fan Zone is obviously set up for that reason, and you have to have a ticket to get into that fan zone. And each fan is effectively allowed to drinks pre the game and after the game in that Fan Zone area. Now they can have like in the stadiums or certain bars within that arena, but not on towards the pitch, like you’ve mentioned, and they can have a couple at the bar, but they will they will not be allowed to take like a plastic glass down into the arena. That’s just not happening. It was kind of the way it was delivered was there’ll be no alcohol in that arena and off. And that’s it.|
So you’ve got a couple of drinks before the game starts. While the game is on maybe at halftime you’ve got a drink in in the back. You come back out And then the next bit will be in the in the aftermath of it really effectively. So once you’ve, once the game is finished, there’s a two hour slot that you can go and have a drink in the Fan Zone. And that’s more for the atmosphere and all that kind of thing. But you know, my advice to the traveller is, and I’ve mentioned this in our report before was, obviously you can have a couple of beers here and there. But ideally, the best thing to do is to wait to get back at your hotel, where it’s kind of okay. Would you agree with that statement?
0:30:25 – 0:32:11
|Yes, for sure. And I would suggest that travellers are making those plans post game. And by that, I mean, making bookings in restaurants, and then making sure you’ve got a booking is very likely, they’re only going to be taking bookings, and no walk ins anyway, just because combination of factors, really, I mean, the booking only system came in as a result of COVID. And until I left, and I believe even now, the booking system for any bars still stands at most of the major hotels. And once they’re booked up, you know, there’s no flexibility, you know, if they’ll accept only a certain number of people, and that is it, you know, they don’t bend the rules on that. So it’s very likely, that’s going to be the case.|
And the reality is, whilst they have developed infrastructurally and you know, more hotels, more restaurants, more bars, there are only still a limited number of facilities, you’re actually able to go and drink at, you know, I was very fortunate, I was actually out in Russia for the World Cup in 2018, for work, and just seeing the hotels in the evening around Red Square, and the bars and just how busy they got it was it was, it was manic, you know, after certain games, people trying to pour in without bookings, you know, hotel security staff having to push people back, they got very, very busy.
So that’s something that travellers really need to bear in mind is, it’s planning your match day, really knowing where your sport is how you’re going to get to that stadium, ensuring that if you have had a drink beforehand, that you, you’re sensible in your drinking before the game, and that you have plans, postgame that, you know, you’re going to go back to your hotel or somewhere close by to your hotel, and you have a booking at a restaurant and a bar.
0:32:11 – 0:32:36
|It’s a good point. Because when I think about, if we’re estimating that 1.5 million, are gonna descend on this beautiful state soon, then, if you look at the restaurants and bars, they’re never going to be able to accommodate that. So then that makes me think, what’s that mean? So you can ask people and we know this from our backgrounds, and where we’ve been in the world, when people go to these events, and they like a drink, it doesn’t stop at the end of the match it carries on. So what’s that going to look like in Qatar?|
0:32:37 – 0:32:58
|Cause actually when you know, particularly when a team that is, well support out there wins deeply, we’re not going to be wrapping up at, you know, 6 – 7pm, if it’s allowed to kick off 9 – 10 o’clock, they’re going to want to stay out. They’re going to want to see out until the the early hours in the morning. So that is something to bear in mind. And without a booking, you’re unlikely to, you’re unlikely –|
0:32:59 – 0:33:29
|– there’s no where to go. Yeah, it’s gonna be like the limited places that are probably already booked up. Now, to be honest, you know, the bars of the hotels, because the amount of people compared to what they’ve got, as they can’t deliver currently, it’s going to be unheard of, unless a certain sessions but the old, the old, sort of like European side, they would go them up, and then they would hit the streets and the squares and the towns and they get dropped till early hours. That can’t happen.|
0:33:29 – 0:35:42
|No, Qatar, you know, whilst they have developed it, you know, considerably in 10 years, they it’s not pedestrianised, in the same way that you might find a square in France or around Red Square or parts of Moscow where you can try a bar and you don’t get in it’s too busy you try the next one and you try the next cafe that serves alcohol or some food and you know, you’ve almost got – it feels almost like an unlimited access to these sort of places.|
You know, you’re not going to have that luxury in Qatar is much more contained, much more confined to very specific pockets and areas where you are going to be able to go you know, you’re not probably very unlikely going to be able to stroll to one of the fan zones, you’re gonna have to get transport and I know transport is being laid on and I know the Metro will cater for them as well, you know, their stations close by to those fans, so that people can, can move quite freely, particularly a really important factor for people to consider is that movement of people from stadium to stadium and that not even just from a security point of view, but from a just a logistics point of view how potentially how long these things are going to take.
It is one of the most contained World Cups in history. You got early stages three or four games a day, within six square miles, some of the stadiums and so that’s a lot of people moving on public transport moving on the roads. You know, people are going to really have to you know, travellers really have to plan their days out and this isn’t in any way to deter people – it’s really just to open people’s eyes to the realities of how great it is on one hand that if you look at Russia in the World Cup in 2018, people’s group games were in one city and and if they progress to the quarterfinals, they have to travel 1000 miles effectively to the next round games.
Qatar is not like that – it has this luxury of being all within a very short proximity or small proximity to each other. But with that brings the difficulty of moving that volume of fans around from a public transport point of view, logistics in terms of where you can eat, where you can drink, those sort of entertainment. And these are all things that people need to bear in mind. So certainly plan ahead and plan early.
0:35:42 – 0:36:09
|It’s sort of like, if you’re an actual business traveller to Qatar, which many are, and you, unfortunately, are not a World Cup supporter, but you’ve got to then go during this time, that’s going to put them out massively, isn’t it, it’s gonna be heavily – commuting is going to be tough, moving around the city, hotel, accommodation, Ubers, taxis all these kinds of things is going to be a massive implicating factor for them. And that’s just their normal business. So it’s gonna be completely eye opening.|
0:36:10 – 0:36:44
|Very, very difficult for anybody travelling over there short notice to get a booking, particularly if you don’t know, anybody who’s lives there. You don’t have family or friends there then 100% business travellers. You know, you’re very right, you make a great point that, should you have to do business. And of course, people do – not all businesses plan well in advance, you know, particularly from a crisis management point of view, in any business in any sector. If people need to travel to Qatar, for any one of a number of reasons, very short notice. It’s going to prove very, very difficult.|
0:36:45 – 0:37:19
|This is what I mean, is setting a new precedent, isn’t it? And like you said, Just then, like the Russia World Cup, everything is like 1000 miles apart, and you’ve got it’s such a geographical expansion, it’s okay, where this is geographically small and tight. So it’s going to prove a different set of problems, really. So it’s going to be interesting to see how that’s going to evolve really, and how the Qataris have kind of come up with ideas on how to make the commute better, how to get the transport, okay, what are the taxis have, they put more taxis on all this kind of stuff, the transport, the airports all this is going to be impacted factors for a traveller, for sure. It’s interesting.|
0:37:19 – 0:40:03
|Whilst this has all been stress tested, and you know, they’ve run all these assessments on all the sort of public transport and the airport, people have to bear in mind that with the, you know, just how contained it is. Yeah, and with the volume of, of individuals, they’re expecting, if you’re looking just at the flying in, there’s only one airport, right? You have, you know, Hamad International Airport, all the traffic is going to be going through that. So, even though it is, it is a huge airport, one of the best in the world, I would say, without bias, having travelled in many airports is one of – it caters for a lot of people. And it caters to a lot of a lot of travellers.|
But you’re gonna have to queue, it’s going to take time when you arrive to, to move through customs, there are passport control, there are expectations, you know, the COVID piece is still going to be in play there, people are going to have to download not only the app, but they’re going to make sure that they have a Qatari SIM, very likely when they arrive, download the EHTERAZ app to prove their COVID status, then prove that they’ve you know, applied for their higher card, which is like the sort of temporary World Cup visa program that they’re running, and may even have to prove, you know, show that show the paperwork, their travel insurance, their health insurance, and these things are going to slow that whole process of getting in there down.
And this isn’t to put a sort of negative spin on it. But this is just to really make people are aware that it is great that it’s a very contained World Cup and you if you’ve got tickets to a few games, you may be able to experience the games in a number of these different new sort of world class stadiums.
But with that, it’s going to mean that there’s a large volume of people travelling through any particular space at a given time, and those airports are going to be busy. It’s going to take time to clear customs and passport control. When you first arrive in those early weeks when all the teams that you know and it’s the group games.
Things will of course, ease off later on in the tournament. As you know, teams are inevitably knocked out and fans fly home because they don’t want to stay or unable financially to stay for the whole tournament. So it’s just something to bear in mind for people that you know, they are going to have to expect waiting times and queues no matter how well drilled all of these processes have been. Things are going to be busy, you’re gonna have a lot of people in very narrow space, all travelling in one direction.
0:40:03 – 0:40:55
|Now I agree. And like you said that the congestion alone is going to be horrific. If you’re talking 1.5 million minimum, descended on this little tiny area, compared to what they normally have, it’s going to be congested, it’s going to be a little bit busy, it’s going to be time consuming, you’re gonna need a little bit of patience.|
Okay, moving on to another subject, which sometimes is slightly controversial. But it’s something that we do need to talk about, especially from other parts of the world that are going to be going into Qatar, homosexuality. It’s considered illegal, I believe. I believe it’s considered a criminal offence. And those convicted may be subject to lashings, imprisonment and deportation. Also intimacy in public, between men and women, even teenagers, whatever can lead to arrest. So we’re talking about the whole thing in general, but homosexuality, let’s touch on that. First. Let’s be fair, it’s better in the world than it used to be it’s becoming more acceptable. But in this area, what are your own opinions about how it’s dealt with in Qatar?
0:40:56 – 0:44:05
|Well, I think it’s important certainly to dispel some of the myths as to sort of punishments that are going to be sorted out to people, if they are behaving in particular ways in public, I can say for sure that there is a gay community in Qatar. And that’s not just contained to Western expats that’re working in Qatar, this is broadly, ok. This is Middle Eastern, North African nationals who live in Qatar.|
But it’s not something that will be talked about and discussed openly, and something that you will see in public. Now not to talk about all the wrongs and rights of their opinions as to homosexuality in that country. But to talk about, really, how you should behave in public, whether you are homosexual, male or female or heterosexual, the expectation is that you won’t be affectionate to your partner in public.
Qataris, predominantly the elder ones, would not be affectionate with their partners in public. It’s something you might see more in the younger generations now. And I can certainly attest for younger Qatari couples who are married holding hands in public now you wouldn’t see them be affectionate you wouldn’t see them kiss each other in public, but you would certainly see them holding hands. And for sure, as a Westerner in Qatar, I would hold hands my wife, right, and it wasn’t frowned upon. Okay, you can do it.
That’s expected if you are a married couple, if you’re not married? Well, unless you’re being scrutinized very heavily to confirm whether you’re wearing rings on your finger, you know, and you’re just holding hands, it’s going to be okay. Right, you’re not going to get into trouble for that, all right.
And that, like I said, you know, the affection between homosexual or heterosexual, it’s no different. It really is very much a case of it’s just not something that’s shown in public, generally. Okay. I think it’s important to dispel sort of any missa- you know, homosexuals are going to be lashed in public, I can say, with almost certainty that well, I certainly never saw that, and I’ve never heard of that ever happening. The Western media have made this a huge issue. Okay, and talked about what’s going to happen if homosexual players come out during the tournament, are they going to be arrested?
Probably one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard during this whole process, particularly in this last year, as we you know, we get closer to it, because that’s just not going to happen. Okay. Any homosexual or heterosexual couples would have to engage in very severe like very, very sexual acts in public to find themselves being arrested. And that would be the same if it was a male and female together, or two females together. All right. If they made a you know, a real public display of affection, that extreme, then yes, they possibly could find themselves being arrested, but for holding hands or simply for being gay in Qatar, you are not going to be arrested for that.
0:44:05 – 0:44:38
|Okay that’s really good then, thank you. On that, I mean, as we know, where we are now in the UK and in Europe, there’s a lot of apps, the different dating apps you can get whether it’d be heterosexual or homosexual. I’ve read a few articles saying that if you were to land in Qatar and they’re looking at your phone on and they see you’ve got these certain dating apps, or what the modern day language, not my language, the hook-up apps, they these kind of things. If you were caught up with something, and the police saw that, would that be frowned upon? Would it be advisable to maybe not have that app?|
0:44:38 – 0:46:04
|If it was a concern, right, then if an individual was concerned about that risk, then it would make sense for them to protect themselves. Okay, and mitigate that as best as they possibly can for their own peace of personal peace of mind, and remove those apps. For sure, people in Qatar and the rest of the Middle East have VPNs on their mobiles, all right. Whilst it may not be possible to download certain apps without a VPN, most people will have them on there so they can access those.|
Like I said, those communities do exist in the Middle East, right, may not be discussed, may be frowned upon in certain, you know, sections of the community. It may be ignored, but the reality is they do exist. And that is not just the Western expats that is local nationals, too alright. So yes, these individuals will access these apps, we all know that people will always find a way around it. Okay, so you can ban access to certain apps, but you will be able to get them through a VPN.
However, I have never heard of anyone who was picked up by the police for whatever reason, and you know, had their phones checked to determine what apps are on them. It seems a very unrealistic possibility, right? I’m not saying beyond the realms of possibility, but very, very unrealistic and very unlikely to happen. And my only suggestion would be if you have those concerns, protect yourself mitigate risk, and just remove them for the period of time whilst you’re in the country. And then when you get home, download them again.
0:46:04 – 0:46:37
|That makes complete sense, Andy. Thanks for that important. One last question. What is your opinion about local law enforcement and policing, as from the Qatar angle. Before the World Cup, let’s go back to how it used to be before this. Some countries have got a bad reputation with policemen about corruption and heavy handedness. Some people have got a great reputation. What are your thoughts on policing in general from an expat more than anything else? Or maybe should we look at from the travellers point of view? What do you think the the perception of local law enforcement is? Are they fair?|
0:46:37 – 0:50:58
|An important factor is that we say local law enforcement because it is local, insofar as you know, they work for the Qatari government. But the vast majority or large quantities of the police forces and security services out there are not actually policed or staffed by local nationals, they are across the board from the Middle East and North Africa, and actually other parts of East Africa, just working in various roles.|
So firstly, it’s important to understand it’s a multi-multinational police force, where English will not necessarily be the first language alright, I do believe that they are being taught elements of English to be able to engage with European and North American fans.
I have never witnessed personally any heavy handedness of the police force. I think, sort of zero tolerance to things like drunk driving, for example, would mean that anyone and people do okay, it does occur in Qatar, for sure, like anywhere else. And if you were picked up for doing so, or pulled over whilst driving there, you can certainly expect to be treated quite harshly.
I don’t think you would be treated harshly from a physical point of view, unless you of course, instigated some sort of physical contact with the police force. So from that perspective, I do genuinely believe that you will be dealt with in a professional manner. You know, there are other consideration. You know, you could almost argue that different nationalities are policed in different ways, in countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates and Saudi, that local nationals are maybe treated more leniently than maybe those from South Asia, for example, you know. Let’s take two people committing like for like driving offense, you might find that the, the South Asian would be the one who would get pulled over by the police, whereas the local national in a land cruiser perhaps might not get pulled over for the same offense.
So those things are to be borne in mind but in terms of how you’re treated, going about your business in Qatar day to day I do genuinely feel that you will be you know, treated very respectfully.
And you know, people have to be very mindful of the fact that the eyes of the world are watching, right? There’s a lot of people out there that don’t want this to succeed. They don’t want this to be a successful World Cup. They want to see this as kind of a poster child for how a World Cup should not be. But look Qatar have put a lot of money, a lot of effort and attention into trying to deliver a really good World Cup and show that you know, this is a world game and it is open to everyone.
So own Qataris are very aware that people are watching and how they treat or how they are seem to be treating Western fans, particularly those who are behaving themselves and acting in accordance with local customs, you know, they are going to want to ensure that reputationally people go away, or they don’t give the media any reason to jump all over that and say, ‘Look, this is exactly what we told you would happen.’ Right. And, you know, it’s interesting that people would be so sort of critical and have their concerns about how the Qatari police are going to deal with European and Western fans.
You know, we only have to look to the Champions League final, which was only in France and how the French police dealt with English fans, right, that’s in Europe. So it’s not contained to Middle Eastern police forces and how heavy handed they may be. We’re used to that, we’ve seen that at home.
So I do genuinely believe that they will act professionally. And as long as people are abiding by laws, customs values behaving themselves. Yep, I think there will be a certain degree of leniency to some behaviour, which, you know, Western media will probably suggest they won’t be, but I do believe that people will be cut a little bit more slack in certain areas than they might expect to be and they will be dealt with, as we would hope they would be dealt with and that travellers will be safe. And all those measures are in place to ensure that fans and travellers are moving between locations and that the security is as we would hope it to be.
0:50:58 – 0:52:16
|Thanks, Andy. That’s really interesting. Yeah, I mean, I’ve worked in a lot of places in my life in my career, and I’ve heard a lot of bad things, good things about different police forces, but from what I’m seeing, and what I’m believing is it’s quite a respectful situation over there. And the Qatari police again, like we mentioned earlier on the conversation, there’s not like a certain leeway given, but I feel that at the end of the day, they have got certain rules and regulations that are very different to European police.|
However, I think that, as you said, the eyes are on this tournament. And I think we’ve all whether it be the fans, the travellers, the hotels, the police, we’ve all got to behave a certain way because of that. Because all the eyes are on this. It’s the first of its kind, it’s going to set history, people are going to look at it to say, Should we do that again, in that area or not?
So in my opinion, I think they’ve got to make it work. So they’ve got to see it as a, how can we do this the best we can for everybody to enjoy it. And that’s including hospitals, taxis, hotel, everything, we’ve talked about everything. So it’s going to be very interesting six weeks, I think. So thank you for your time, Andy is it as as you’d like to add, apart from you actually go into the World Cup and making us all jealous?
0:52:17 – 0:55:15
|Well, you know, fortunately, we’re going out later in the tournament. So hopefully, you know, on one hand, I would very much like to be able to see it early on in the stages where you’re gonna have all those fans there and really get to experience how they manage the World Cup and let the you know, that volume of of people. But yeah, hopefully by the time I get out there, things will have sort of calmed down again. And I can move quite freely through passport control and get to the locations that I need to get to and see the people that we want to see.|
But one of the most important things for me, and I would say to any traveller, and this is not even any just traveller, anyone who’s ever considering working in the Middle East or going to a country like Qatar to work, even if only for a short period is that, most importantly, the likelihood of being a victim of a violent crime over there are amongst the slimmest in the world.
I live in a relatively pleasant area back in the UK but the risk for me here of being a victim of a violent crime or having a home invasion are more than 100 times likely than in Qatar. At no point in Qatar, that I ever feel that I was at risk and you know, ever threatened by anyone you know, you know. It was a sort of place where you can go about your business day to day you can unlock your you know, keep your for long periods of time, I would keep my house, my apartment unlocked. It was just there was never any real need to do so. And these are things are quite important.
I think the media, and this is not saying that any country by any stretch is perfect everywhere has their problems, their concerns, for a number of any number of different reasons. But in terms of safety of travellers, which is really what we’re trying to drive home here today is that I don’t genuinely feel you could travel to a safer country.
Yeah, I think you can expect you know, in the Middle East that the roads to be a bit wilder than you might be used to. We’ve spent a lot of money and effort on bringing the roads up to Western or European standards, or say Western which is unfair, but increase this standards of the roads and the signage, it looks very much like the road you would drive in at home. The standard of driving, however, is not necessarily the standard of driving your experience and home, because very few people actually learn to drive formally and sit tests. And it can be wild, particularly at peak times when everyone is trying to gain that little bit of advantage to get home just that, you know, few seconds quicker. So I would say that’s something to be very mindful of. When you’re on the roads, it might be a little bit more of an experience than you’re used to back home, particularly with the Uber drivers.
But in terms of general safety for travellers, the threat of terrorist attacks, chances of being a victim of a violent crime, being pickpocketed, mugged, assaulted in the street are so so slim.
0:55:16 – 0:55:42
|That’s so good to hear. At the end of the day what we’re sort of saying there is the normal, but what you’ve just mentioned that the fraud, pickpockets, the risk is so unlikely, but the other risk is the behaviour.|
So if you are highly unlikely to get mugged, attacked, fraud, scammed, terrorist attack, but the other side of it is we just got a look at your behaviour slightly different. And then you’ll have a lovely trip. And I really, you should have a pleasant travel.
0:55:43 – 0:56:22
|Yeah, absolutely. It is, for many reasons is going to be an interesting world cup. And it is a very different country. For anyone who’s never travelled in the Middle East before, it’s a great exposure.|
It’s very easy to look at the Middle East very broadly, and say, you know, what’s happening in Palestine and Israel automatically translates across the region more broadly. What’s happened in Iraq, challenges in Afghanistan, we’re moving more to Central Asia.
But you know, Qatar is a very safe and interesting country to visit in the Middle East. And if you have never visited the Middle East, then it’s somewhere that I would recommend, even if it’s only for a short period of time.
0:56:23 – 0:57:15
|Me too, and I’ve only wandered through a few times. But I found it really good. It was it was a really lovely place to be. So thank you, Andy.|
Anyway, in this episode, we focused on dress code, foul language, homosexuality, alcohol consumption, and opinions of local law enforcement.
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Be sure to like and subscribe our podcast. You can also visit our podcast page which is linked to the show notes to review the previous episodes and transcript. That’s all for this episode. Until next time, I will meet with Andy again to discuss phase two. Safe travels and goodbye. I’m Kate Fitzpatrick. We’ll see you soon. Bye bye.
In this episode of our Safe Travel Series, we cover the top considerations for travellers visiting Qatar for the FIFA World Cup games. Regional Security Director, Kate Fitzpatrick, sits down with Andy James who lived and worked in Doha, Qatar for over 10 years.
Together they discuss in detail the expected dress code (2:23), understanding norms around foul language and behaviour (11:50), the differences in this World Cup compared to past games (17:30), the rules around alcohol consumption (23:06), the need to plan ahead – both for fans and business travellers (30:25), media portrayal vs what’s acceptable regarding sexuality and intimacy in public (40:54), as well as local law enforcement and policing (46:45).
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