In a sort of wasteland on the outskirts of Doha, Qatar has built a thousand dormitory rooms to accommodate fans attending the FIFA World Cup. The cabins are tiny, and the heat inside is suffocating: the air conditioning is a low-powered machine on wheels. “This cost us $200 a night, without breakfast or anything,” explains Spanish sports fan David Pinillos. He arrived in Doha on Tuesday night from Dubai. “We’re staying at a friend’s house there, and we’re flying here the night before each Spain game, because it’s cheaper that way. Direct flights to Doha cost $900 months ago. Dubai is much less, and there is also more freedom. You can have a beer if you want. I calculate that the entire trip will cost at least $3,000. At the World Cup in Russia, I spent that, and we only got to the round of 16.” He realizes that if Spain progresses to the quarterfinals, he would have to spend more money, but he wouldn’t mind.
Travel reservations in Qatar cannot be made through an agency. The group arrived at the camp around 8.00pm on Tuesday, and some of them were not given their room until after 3am. “They are building them as they go along,” explains Giancarlo Magnieli, 35, of Italian origin and Spanish nationality. “They wanted to take us to another place that was much worse, and we refused. Some bunks were missing the window glass, others were full of sand and very dirty. There were nails, construction pieces everywhere. Terrible.” Pinillos, who manages tourist apartments in the Spanish region of La Rioja, couldn’t imagine his clients in such a place.
Paco González, 56, and Juan Canseco, 63, traveled to Qatar from the Spanish city of Oviedo on Tuesday. “When we arrived at eight in the evening,” recounts Paco, “they told us that the bunks were overbooked, but later we discovered that they didn’t have enough dorms prepared. They were making them. When they finished, they brought us the keys. When they gave it to us, the rooms didn’t have sheets or towels or toilet paper. It was 3.15am.” Juan has experience attending the World Cup. This is his fourth so far, and he says that it is “the strangest of all.”
David Cebollada, a 48-year-old municipal police officer in the Spanish city of Zaragoza, boasts of having attended 83 of the Spanish team’s games. In 2012, along with other aficionados, he created the Marea Roja fan club. “We are a crazy gang that follows Spain wherever it goes: Faroe Islands, Norway, Romania.” This is his fourth World Cup. “There has been a lot of talk about human rights in Qatar, but that has been known for 12 years. We are not to blame for where it is held. We come to the soccer party, and we can’t be thinking about what’s going on around us. I came to enjoy myself. That’s what everyone comes to do. I think it’s going to be a great World Cup, despite the prices in the area, although when I was in Norway watching Spain it was also very expensive. The ticket to the game cost me $150.”
The group expects to spend their savings here. They’re using their vacation for the whole year to spend these days in Qatar. Cebollada gets emotional when talking about his family. “My son is named Diego Armando after Maradona. He is 17 years old, and since he is studying, he couldn’t come.”
The reception desk to this peculiar hotel resembles a stall at the entrance of an informal market. The restaurant and food and drink stalls are located along an artificial grass corridor. The atmosphere is festive. Fans from different countries are singing the usual stadium songs. They chat with the people beside them, even those who may support their rivals on the field. “The power of soccer!” Pinillos exclaims, smiling from ear to ear in his matching Spanish team t-shirt, cap and socks.