DOHA, QATAR — Complete with a massive LCD screen, pulsating music and official FIFA branding, the atmosphere at the Asian Town Cricket Stadium is lively.
As people stream in, a woman emcee on stage sets challenges for the audience. Her voice blares from the speakers: Who can sing a Bollywood song?
The crowd responds with applause. Many raise their hands to get a chance to sing on stage.
Next to the stage are several food stalls, where enticing aromas of South Asian food, like the hugely popular deep fried snacks – samosa and pakora – fill the air.
A banner reading “Thanks for your contributions for delivering the best FIFA World Cup ever” – in Arabic, English and Hindi – appears on a wall close to the entry.
This is the Fan Zone in the Industrial area, some 20 km south of the Qatari capital Doha, where thousands of migrant workers are housed in a large expanse of warehouses, factories and residential complexes, that extends for several km.
“I came here to watch the Argentina vs Saudi Arabia game on the big screen with my friends. It is easy for us to come here as all other fan zones are very far from us,” Lavlu Chadra Das, a worker from Bangladesh, tells TRT World.
“In Bangladesh, everyone supports Argentina. I have been supporting Argentina since I was a kid. I consider myself very lucky to witness the World Cup.”
Qatar, a country with a population of about 2.8 million, made history by hosting the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East, also first by a Muslim majority country.
The preparation of the host country for the games was a massive undertaking, and it was accomplished largely by expat workers.
Responding to calls from human rights organisations, Qatar took several steps to address concerns over salaries, living conditions and worker safety issues.
Under radical changes made in 2020, the Qatari government abolished a system of ‘no-objection certificate’ which required employees to obtain permission from their present employers before switching jobs.
A minimum monthly wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275) has also been implemented in Qatar.
“It is hard to express my feelings. I am a die-hard fan of football and Messi. When will I get a chance to witness the football World Cup? We all worked hard to see this day,” another migrant worker, Sumit Kumar Yadav from India, tells TRT World.
When the second match of the day between Denmark and Tunisia begins, thousands of mostly male labourers fill the stadium ground, some sitting cross-legged on the grassy field, while others on the stadium chairs.
“Because of our working hours, and other inconveniences, most of us cannot go to the stadiums to watch matches. Tickets are also expensive, so I’m glad they set up a fan zone here for us,” says Kanamungo Mitao, a security guard.
“This World Cup, I will have to go with team Tunisia. They should bring the cup to Africa.”
Most workers TRT World spoke to expressed disappointment over not being able to afford stadıum tickets to any of the games as their salaries were less than 2,000 Qatari riyals ($550) per month, and a ticket for a game cost on average about $200.
But for Erik, also a Kenyan security guard, the month-long festivities in the country is giving him some relief from sorely missing his family back home.
“I went to the city centre during my day off and it is full of people from across the world,” he tells TRT World.
“The tournament is right here, it is convenient for us, so we should socialise, meet people from other countries, and find out how they live. We should enjoy and have fun.”