BROUGHT TO­GETHER BY FOOT­BALL

Cheer­ing crowds, foot­ball trivia, stilt walk­ers and World Cup fever all came to­gether to de­liver an un­equalled match view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at the Brazil 2014 Fan Zone at Katara. Ayswarya Murthy gets the low­down.

Qatar Today - - CULTURE> QT TAKE -

There was no es­cap­ing foot­ball in Qatar dur­ing the World Cup. Come evening, you couldn't throw a stick with­out it hit­ting an es­tab­lish­ment that was screen­ing the matches. But cer­tainly no one was com­plain­ing, con­sid­er­ing the foot­ball hun­gry pop­u­la­tion and the myr­iad of op­tions avail­able for those who wanted to catch some live ac­tion – from gi­ant screens at plush foot­ball zones in five-star ho­tels to the slightly slanted 32” tele­vi­sion set at a lo­cal shee­sha bar, each had its own charm. But per­haps the most novel ex­pe­ri­ence of this World Cup summer in Doha was the Brazil 2014 Fan Zone that was raised up at Katara.

For sev­eral days prior to Ra­madan, as the mys­te­ri­ous white struc­ture was go­ing up right op­po­site St Regis ho­tel, curiosity and ex­cite­ment gripped all those who drove past it. It was com­mon knowl­edge that this was re­lated to the up­com­ing World Cup and could pos­si­bly ac­com­mo­date hun­dreds of loud, cheer­ing fans. But would this be our own Copaca­bana beach? Doha's ver­sion of Ber­lin's Liv­ing Room Sta­dium? Was it a her­ald of things to come? All these ques­tions were an­swered on June 28 when the Supreme Com­mit­tee for De­liv­ery and Legacy threw open the doors of the Fan Zone to a pub­lic that was prac­ti­cally strain­ing at the leash. Watch­ing the match at home held lit­tle ap­peal, restau­rants and cafes were only marginally bet­ter and those who headed for one of the gi­ant screens at Souq Waqif to bask in the shared ex­cite­ment of fel­low foot­ball-lovers found the heat and hu­mid­ity bear­ing down upon them with a vengeance. Fan Zone promised an ir­re­sistible mid­dle-ground.

We set foot in there for the first time on the day that Bel­gium played against the USA, the last of the Round of 16 matches. Maybe no­body ex­pected the game to throw up much ex­cite­ment (how­ever, as it turned out, the 30-min­utes of ex­tra time was, at the point in the World Cup, one of the most in­tense moments of foot­ball) be­cause the regis­tra­tion space at Doha Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre looked al­most for­lorn. Get­ting your wrist­band for en­try was a quick and pain­less process and we were ush­ered into the air-con­di­tioned Mowasalat bus that was to ferry us ( just the two of us) to the Fan Zone, three min­utes away. We'd later find out that this was not the case for the quar­ter fi­nals matches on­wards. Queue for regis­tra­tion at the DEC stretched on till the park­ing lot, tick­ets went fast and the bus ran to and fro packed to the brim. All the 400 seats that were al­lo­cated for on­line book­ing had been grabbed up within days and first come first serve was a gam­ble. We barely made it for the Ger­many vs France match, be­ing the ab­so­lute last peo­ple to be given the wrist­bands, and had to watch the first half of the match on our feet, munch­ing on some out­ra­geously ex­pen­sive hot­dogs. The sec­ond half went by in rel­a­tive com­fort af­ter we man­aged to poach some seats. Face paint­ing, foot­ball mer­chan­dise, foos­ball ta­bles and mini games dot­ted around the fan zone served to keep you oc­cu­pied as you waited

for the kick­off. The kid's play zone also was a life­saver as it kept the lit­tle ones from get­ting un­der­foot. Mas­cots and per­for­mance artists took to the stage to wow the crowd with their ac­ro­bat­ics and crazy cos­tumes. All in all, the ex­pe­ri­ence was any­thing but dull. Also keep­ing the spirit up were MCs like the inim­itable Ha­mad Al Amari who pulled up un­sus­pect­ing fans to an­swer ques­tions about the teams they were sup­port­ing. Wit and hu­mour flew thick and fast from both sides. One cheeky Bel­gian fan was cer­tain that they would pre­vail against the USA. “One of the big­gest coun­tries in the world is play­ing against one of the small­est,” he said. “And to­day we'll see that size doesn't mat­ter.” A red-faced Al Amari, pre­tend­ing to be scan­dalised, re­lieved the gen­tle­men of the mi­cro­phone and stomped off, as the au­di­ence rolled over laugh­ing (more at Al Amari's an­tics than the state­ment it­self ). When he thought things were get­ting too quiet, he'd chal­lenge op­pos­ing fans to an eight-on-eight foos­ball match. Two snack bars at the Fan Zone, stocked by the W Ho­tels, keep the crowds fed and wa­tered. Dur­ing busy days, how­ever, they seem to be com­ing apart at the seams with wait times that seemed to take for­ever and the billing clerks ac­cept­ing cash for items that had al­ready run out (and you had to find that out af­ter hav­ing to wait ten more min­utes to reach the serv­ing counter).

Few peo­ple who had vis­ited the Fan Zone had any­thing bad to say about the ex­pe­ri­ence and the Supreme Com­mit­tee for De­liv­ery and Legacy can chalk this one up as a suc­cess. The ex­e­cu­tion was per­fect and smooth and a grand time was had by all. Even those who barely had any in­ter­est in foot­ball (points to self ), couldn't help but get drawn into the ex­cite­ment and the spirit of things. By the end, I was scream­ing my­self hoarse along with the rest of the fans and curs­ing like a sailor be­tween run­ning a Google search to find out ex­actly how long the ex­tra time lasted. We didn't have the chance to check out the Fan Zone at Aspire but re­ports that reached us were largely pos­i­tive about this one too. We won­der why that wasn't as heav­ily pub­li­cised and pro­moted as the Brazil 2014 Fan Zone in Katara

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