African workers in Qatar are determined to see World Cup heroes in action

Many football-mad people who are helping to ensure the tournament runs smoothly still have their sights set on attending games

From left, brothers Olu, Ibrahim and Babou Njie from Senegal have been working in Doha during the World Cup. Andy Scott
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Football-loving African fans helping to keep the World Cup running are determined to see their heroes in action, despite the challenges of long journeys and relatively high ticket prices.

Migrant workers drawn from the continent make up a large number of security staff at stadiums and fan zones across Qatar.

Seated on high chairs with huge foam finger pointers and megaphones, they have become a feature of this tournament, directing thousands of fans around the city.

Many are lovers of the beautiful game themselves, but often have to settle for catching matches on phones instead if not lucky enough to pick up tickets at an affordable price.

Senegal — despite the loss of talisman Sadio Mane and an opening game defeat to the Netherlands — are carrying the hopes of Africa, along with Cameroon and Ghana who join the party on Thursday.

North African sides Tunisia and Morocco have already secured creditable opening-day draws against more heralded opposition.

Race against time to catch a match

At Al Bayt Stadium, the National spoke to a small group of African workers decked in Mane shirts who were eager to embrace the tournament.

“I have been in Qatar for two months, working as a helper, carrying out maintenance at stadiums, that kind of thing,” said Olu Njie, 22, from Louga, Senegal.

“We are not working for Fifa, but a sub-contractor.

“I had a ticket for the France game, but I couldn’t get there until after the game started as my accommodation is a long way from the stadium.”

Mr Njie, who earns about 2,000 riyals (Dh2,017) a month, is a freelance worker during his time in Qatar, and is paid weekly.

His rent is Dh1,800 a month, and he cuts costs by sharing a room with four other men.

Here for the love of the game

Despite a 90-minute journey via Metro and on foot to reach stadiums, diehard football fans are determined to cheer on their teams.

Although residents of Qatar can pick up a group match ticket for about 40 riyals, the cheapest ticket for international fans is 250 riyals, rising to 600 riyals and 800 riyals for preferred seating.

Temporary workers living on a tight budget like Ibrahim Njie, 20, were prepared to take a chance on picking up a cut-price match ticket, long after games kicked off.

“I want to stay for four months, earn some money and hopefully get to a game,” he said.

“The tickets here are very expensive, too much.

“If you are a real fan, you will find the money somehow. We came to work in Doha because we love football.”

David, a security worker from Uganda at Al Bayt Stadium park, said all his money was being sent home.

“I love football, but there is no chance of watching a match, even while working here,” he said.

“If I spent my money on a ticket, there would be no point in me coming to Qatar — I need to send money to my family.”

Lusail Boulevard is a prime tourist attraction during the World Cup, and is heaving with fans after matches at the nearby 80,000 seater Lusail Stadium.

Mary, 23, a security guard from Kenya, works 12-hour shifts there starting from 2pm every day.

“I’m on a three-month contract here, but I don’t get a day off,” she said.

“I share a room with nine other Kenya girls, we are all doing the same thing.

“Tickets for the World Cup are too much, I only earn 2,000 riyals a month and I need to save this for when I go home in January.”

Migrant workers enjoy World Cup opener — in pictures

Updated: November 25, 2022, 8:50 AM