Chaos struck the World Cup fan zone in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday as 80,000 fans tried to fill the venue when it can only accommodate less than half that number.
The gated area at Al Bidda in central Doha contains a big-screen TV for watching matches and places to buy beer, and given the dearth of other options in the pricey Arab city, it was a very popular choice for fans.
So many supporters turned up for the opening match of the Cup that riot police armed with batons and shields were forced to keep the crowd at bay, standing guard at the entrance and repeatedly refusing requests to let people in after they the fan zone was closed.
A pair of enthusiastic Socceroos fans stand in the packed fan zone at Al Bidda in central Doha, where the venue’s capacity of 40,000 was stretched as more than 80,000 people tried to get in
As a result, to prevent a possible gathering of the crowd, riot police were forced to keep tens of thousands of people away from the venue when it reached capacity.
It left some fans fearing for their lives, particularly after a series of high-profile crowd smashes of late.
That includes the recent Halloween crowd crush in South Korea that left 158 dead, a stampede that killed 125 at a soccer match in Indonesia in October, and the infamous Astroworld crowd where 10 people died watching rapper Travis Scott. perform in Houston, Texas. .
Fans filled the two-meter-high fences to catch a glimpse of the television in the World Cup fan zone.
It is very risky. People could die,” said Iraqi Hatem El-Berarri, who said he was working in neighboring Dubai.
‘Older people, women, they can’t handle crowds like this. Thank God I’m a little tall so I can breathe. But I saw some kids and I told them “lift them up. They can’t breathe.”
El-Berarri said he saw people pushing and shoving, and women crying.
Al Bidda’s fan zone, which serves beer and has a big-screen TV – and little else – was packed on Sunday
‘My family is inside. I can’t get in to see them anymore. I don’t know what to do,’ El-Berarri said, calling the organization in place ‘not very good.’
Luis Reyes, a Mexican-American who lives in Los Angeles, compared the crush to scenes that saw more than 150 dead in South Korea a few weeks ago.
‘You can’t go back and you can’t go forward. I told my son, “Let’s go outside. It’s too dangerous,” he said.
Riot police, many armed with shields and batons, were forced to hold off the crowd in the fan zone.
An Australian journalist was one of many not allowed into the fan zone after being turned away by riot police.
‘Images begin to emerge of the chaotic crowd rushing inside. We then passed a 40-meter line to go to the bathroom, surely a bigger deterrent to a pint of beer than even the $25 price tag,’ he wrote in the daily telegraph.
It is not yet clear if anyone was injured or arrested as a result of the chaotic scenes.
There was a similar situation on Saturday night at a pre-World Cup concert when people tried to force their way inside the same fan zone.
However, not everyone was happy that beer was being served in the fan zone, despite a last-minute backflip by organizers, who banned the sale of alcohol inside stadiums.
Mahdi Hussain, a 17-year-old who was unable to enter, said he was not happy that beer was being served.
While alcohol was banned from being served in World Cup stadiums after a last-minute Qatari backflip, beer can be served in the Fan Zone at Al Bidda Park in Doha.
‘That annoys me. I don’t want to be in an environment where there is alcohol,’ she said.
On the other hand, Samira Said, who moved to Qatar from Egypt some 25 years ago, said she was delighted that an Arab country was hosting the World Cup.
‘As an Arab, I felt honoured. I was happy,’ said the 50-year-old.
The World Cup continues on Monday, with England against Iran, Senegal against the Netherlands and the USA against Wales as part of a highly successful day of football as the tournament gets underway in earnest.
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