Why Qatar hosting the World Cup in winter is good and bad news for fans


Drunken football fans at the Qatar World Cup will not get thrown in prison under a planned relaxation of some laws, a tournament insider has said.

While the policing strategy for the competition has yet to be finalised, organisers have told diplomats and police from qualified countries that they intend to show flexibility for relatively minor infringements.

The signals reflect the delicate balance which Qatar is trying to strike between respecting religious traditions and accommodating the raucous exuberance of more than a million visiting football fans.

According to Qatar’s legal code, freedom of expression is restricted, homosexuality is illegal and sex outside marriage is outlawed. Public drunkenness can incur a prison sentence of up to six months and some things considered benign elsewhere like public displays of affection or wearing revealing clothes can be grounds for arrest.

However organisers already intend to relax Qatar’s strict laws limiting the public sale of alcohol, and will allow beer to be served near stadiums a few hours before matches kick off.

Informally, they have also told police from European countries which have qualified for the tournament and some diplomats in Doha to expect police to show flexibility in enforcing other laws, such as drunkenness or public disorder.

“Minor offences won’t result in a fine or arrest, but police will be instructed to go to a person and ask him or her to comply… Someone who removes a T-shirt in public will be asked to put his T-shirt back on. There is some sort of tolerance,” said the World Cup insider.

Fans who commit such acts, like using flares or fireworks which could cause damage, or being involved in a fight – even where there are no serious injuries – can expect to face fines and cancellation of their ‘Hayya card’, the permit to enter Qatar and access stadiums, the source added.

When is it?

The 22nd Fifa World Cup starts with the hosts Qatar taking on Ecuador in the Group A opener on Sunday, November 20 2022 and ends four weeks later on Sunday, December 18 2022. 

In the 92 years since the inaugural 13-team World Cup 1930 in Uruguay, there has been no more contentious host than Qatar, a country of 2.9 million people, with a highly worrying record on migrant worker safety and a climate so hot in the tournament’s usual quadrennial slot that it has forced a disruptive switch to the first ever winter World Cup.

Why winter not summer?

For the first time in the tournament’s history, it will not take place during the European summer, between domestic league seasons, and will necessitate a mid-season hiatus for elite domestic and continental competition. The extremely controversial bidding process undertaken in 2010 to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, won by Russia and Qatar respectively, is the sole reason for the switch to a winter schedule. For four years both Fifa and the hosts insisted it would be held in the traditional summer weeks despite temperatures in Doha in July reaching as high as 50.4C and repeated warnings about player safety but in 2014 Fifa revealed to very little surprise that it had agreed to move the tournament to a window between November 15 and January 15.   

What will the temperatures be?

According to the Met Office, average temperatures in Qatar in November and December range from a daytime high of 29C to a night-time low of 19C, far more tolerable than high summer heat and, indeed, the 40C the Republic of Ireland endured during their defeat by Mexico in Orlando, Florida, at the 1994 World Cup.

All eight stadiums have solar powered air-conditioning. 

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