World Cup fan zone at Al Bidda overwhelmed on opening day

Fans were turned away from the FIFA fan festival in Al Bidda over chaotic scenes as it was overcrowded on Sunday as the World Cup kicked off between hosts Qatar and Ecuador.

Security forces shut down access to the Fan Festival as it reached capacity and security services were urged to physically restrain spectators attempting to approach the entrances.

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Although the venue holds 40,000 spectators, an hour before kick-off there were long queues of people still trying to gain entry to the park. Due to the weight of the crowd, spectators were pinned against the metal barriers and security forces seemed unnerved as they tried to deal with the crowd.

Ecuador beat Qatar 2-0 to start Group A, with the stands at Al Bayt Stadium emptying well before the end of the game.

An England fan told ESPN that the left side of his body was injured from the pressure of getting in. When fans later left the fan zone after full time, megaphones were still broadcasting messages urging fans to move to other areas of Doha rather than staying close to the fan park.

The nearest metro station, the Corniche, was originally intended to only be accessible to fans exiting the station, but that has been closed to prevent overcrowding.

“It was dangerous,” a fan who was carrying an almost four-year-old child who had left the waiting area told Reuters. “They let too many people in. We never made it into the main area and I was glad to leave.”

It took police about 45 minutes to clear the excess fans from the area.

Frustrated local fans, volunteers and the media were clearly upset with the police, but supporters from other countries showed more sympathy.

While there was chaos in the waiting area, the scene in the park seemed pleasant, with Brazilian fans Andrea Nascimento and Raphael de Jesus appreciating the atmosphere.

“I think Qatar will be a great host. Now that the games are starting, the mood is building,” Jesus said. “This is my third World Cup after 2014 and 2018 and everything has been very well organized so far.”

Elsewhere, the famous Souk Waqif market brought together fans from all over the world with many flags from Saudi Arabia and Iran on display, as well as a strong South American representation.

For 20 Qatari riyals, fans could do three laps with a pen on the back of a muzzled camel, which TV stations’ studios overlooked.

As kick-off approached, the narrow streets of the souk began to empty, the air filling with the scent of spices and dried fruits for sale in front of the various shops.

Fans gathered beneath the television studios and craned their necks to peer through the windows at what was happening on the big screens.

A group of fans sat in a majlis, an air-conditioned living room, staring at a television screen.

Several tables set up for shatranj, an ancient form of chess, stood empty across the room as soccer fever gripped diners at the Majlis.

Information from Reuters was used in this story.

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