Qatar Offered Fans Free World Cup Trips, but Only on Its Terms

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Organizers are providing travel and tickets to fans of the participating teams, including dozens of Americans. But only if they promised not to criticize Qatar, and to report people who do.

Qatar will welcome fans from every corner of the world this month. Some will get special attention.

It is an offer good enough to make any soccer fan stop and listen. Free flights to the World Cup. Free tickets to matches. Free housing during the tournament and even a bit of spending money.

But the offer comes with a catch.

The handpicked fans who accept this trip of a lifetime — financed by Qatar, the host nation of this year’s World Cup — will be required to abide by contracts that will require them to sing what they’re told to sing, to watch what they say and, most controversially, to report social media posts made by other fans critical of Qatar.

Yet despite those rules, hundreds of supporters have signed up.

The invitations went out in late September, and targeted some of the most well-connected and well-known fan leaders backing the 32 teams headed to the World Cup. A Dutch fan told the broadcaster NOS that he had agreed to vet other supporters from the Netherlands. A board member from the American Outlaws, the biggest U.S. supporters group, agreed to take part, and then helped sign up fellow members and others.

Fans from all of FIFA’s confederations have accepted the offer; dozens have already traveled to Qatar at least once for luxurious pre-World Cup visits. Those, too, were paid for by tournament organizers.

Other fans, though, have declined. The conditions attached to the offer, one French fan told Le Parisien, felt like a step too far. “Despite the appetizing side of the dish, I preferred to stay true to my values,” said Joseph Delage, a member of a prominent French supporters group.

Qatar’s offer, which came out of a fan engagement program started in 2020, is the first time a host nation has paid for groups of fans from all the competing nations to attend the World Cup. But it is not the first time Qatar has worked to fill stadiums with friendly voices; in 2019, migrant workers and schoolchildren were enlisted to fill empty seats at the world track and field championships in Doha.

In exchange for their World Cup perks, this year’s fans — as many as 50 from each country — will be required to perform in a ceremony before Qatar opens the tournament against Ecuador on Nov. 20. Organizers have dedicated five minutes of that celebration to a fan-themed segment that will require the beneficiaries of Qatar’s generosity to perform a chant or song specific to their country, selected not by them but by tournament organizers.

Representatives of Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, tried this week to play down the requirements explicit, and implicit, in the offer. “There is no obligation to promote or do anything,” Ahsan Mansoor, the fan engagement director for the 2022 World Cup, said in an interview.