The Football World Cup’s Carnival Comes at a Cost

The tournament Football World Cup is, at heart, a feeling, and FIFA and Qatar may be ignoring that no quantity of expenditure is a substitute. The good news is that it’s a yes from the gigantic, fire-breathing spider. It is hard, after all, to think of a Football World Cup without its finest tradition: 50 tons of mothballed crane placed into the shape of a monstrous arachnid, filled full of highly inflammable fuel, and then sold with hopefully less combustible D.J.s.

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The Football World Cup’s Carnival Comes at a Cost
The Football World Cup’s Carnival Comes at a Cost

The spider will form the focus of one of the cultural highlights of this winter’s Football World Cup in Qatar a monthlong electric music centenary called the Arcadia Spectacular, theatrical just south of Doha and boastful what the promotional physical calls an electrifying atmosphere, strange, sculpted stages and the most immersive shows on earth.

The idea has been developed, patently, at England’s Glastonbury Festival the spider itself has been a frequent feature there for a time and, though it was only revealed at a relatively late stage in arrangements for the Football World Cup, organizers believe it to draw some 200,000 followers. Each one of them should be told: They will, it turns out, be captivated late into the night.

The spider, however, will not be alone, which apparently can be a problem when you are a nightmarish metal behemoth. The Arcadia Spectacular is not the only music event to be tacked on to Qatar Football World Cup. There will be another at Al Wakrah, hosted by a company called MDLBEAST: you can tell it will be cutting-edge, as it’s in block capital letters and has gone with some of its vowels, the most old-fashioned type of letter.

Those events, however, form only a part of the entertaining embroidery on offer to supporters throughout the tournament World Cups. There is Al Maha Island, with its ice-skating rink, its circus, and its theme park; Lusail, the first-ever city built for a Football World Cup, where the central avenue will nose vehicle parades and futuristic light shows; the Doha Corniche, four miles of roving street doers and carnival atmosphere; and, of course, the beach clubs, the fan park and, around every stadium for every match, the catchily named Last Mile Cultural Activation.

Qatar, in other terms, has been as good as its word: It vowed it would put on a show, and it has given. No expense has been saved. No stone has been left unturned. Its proposals for what might be dubbed the tournament event are grand, impressive, and stunning. It is just a disgrace that they are not, in any way, thinking of what admirers want or need, and that they so betray such a basic confusion on the part of both the local organizers and, more damningly, FIFA itself of what it is that makes a Football World Cup special.

The Football World Cup’s Carnival Comes at a Cost
The Football World Cup’s Carnival Comes at a Cost

It is not the soccer that makes the FIFA World Cup, not really. There are times that the matches are breathtaking and nail-biting and heartbreaking, of way, when what takes place on the field is engraved onto the communal memory like a bright, lasting tattoo or an aching scar. Only more often it is a bit more ethereal. The Football World Cup, at heart, is a feeling.

The most remarkable thing about Russia, four years ago, for instance, was not the French squad that began winning. It was not the Croatia side that brought a nation of five million to the cusp of greatest glory. It was not even the spot of Germany, the leading champion, crashing out in the group stage, or the baffling self-immolation of Spain.

No, what was Russia 2018 particularly now, given all that has occurred, given how unreal that month in the sun now thinks was Nikolskaya, the street in central Moscow that developed into a hub for enthusiasts from all over the world, full of banners and bunting and song. It was the sight of thousands upon thousands of Peruvians on the streets of Saransk, a red sash around their hearts. It was the sense that, even in a vast land of grassland and mountain and forest, you were not ever more than six feet from a Colombian.

That joy, that feeling of friendship, does not just touch that attendance. It expands like a smile to the many, many more seeing at home. It offers not only the music to the matches but the backdrop, too. It breaks stadiums from sterile balls into something packed with life. It takes a mere Football tournament and turns it into an event. It cannot be enforced. It cannot be ordered into actuality. It must gestate, develop, and ferment.

There are many occasions to criticize the idea of a Football World Cup in Qatar. First and foremost, there are ongoing worries about human rights and the queasy immorality of a World Cup tournament built by and on indentured labour. There is the troubling insecurity, too, over quite how to welcome gay admirers might be, over whether this really will be a world cup for everyone. Then, however it pales in rank to those concerns, it is worth undecided to think about what sort of Football World Cup this might be, too, as it is there that it is possible to glimpse most clearly not only who Qatar and chiefly FIFA thinks the world’s main sporting event FIFA World Cup is for, then what it is.

The Football World Cup’s Carnival Comes at a Cost
The Football World Cup’s Carnival Comes at a Cost

It was in August, three months earlier than the tournament Football World Cup was scheduled to start, that Qatar said the Arcadia Spectacular, completed with its horrifying steel tarantula. It looked odd to reveal such a major addition to the slate at such short notice, although there has been a particularly last-minute air to much of the Football World Cup. It is as if all the work, all the energy, was poured into ensuring the tournament world cup and building the stadiums so that only at the last moment did anyone doubt all the people who might turn up to watch.

Nowhere is that brighter than in the accommodations that are supposed to house the million or so followers expected to attend in November and December. Even now, less than two months out, not all the lodging being ready for the tournament is offered to book, for the very good reason that not all of it is prepared. Worldwide Tickets and Hospitality offers Football World Cup tickets for the Qatar Football World Cup at the best prices. Football fanatics and buy Football World Cup Tickets at exclusively discounted prices.

The tournament’s organizers contend that Qatar has a secure inventory of followers: there will, they say, be up to 130,000 rooms to house followers every night of the tournament world cup. There is something to suit everybody, too, with options varying from hotels to villas and apartments and cruise ships, simple cabins, luxury tents, and even vacationer vans. The lowest option is as low as $80 per room per night, a spokesman for the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy stated.

While that is real, it is not quite clear what that $80 buy you. Various organizations indicating fan activities harbour significant worries about what sort of services will be on offer in the cabin parks. It is not yet clear, one spokesperson stated, if those staying in the parks will be able to watch matches on television, or quite how they would gain access to food and water. 

Nor is it completely obvious quite what percentage of the available accommodation could be counted as appropriate for the budget-conscious traveller, as the website of the Qatar Accommodation Agency, the central gateway for booking rooms in Qatar during the Football World Cup tournament, puts it.

There are, presently, apartments offered for $102 per person, per night, for certain dates, although they come with a warning that accessibility is running low. Miss out on them and the price sneaks up quickly. Other choices start at $300 a night. A comfort tent goes for more than $400. A berth on a cruise ship starts at around $500. Hotels can run into thousands of dollars for a single night.

The Football World Cup’s Carnival Comes at a Cost
The Football World Cup’s Carnival Comes at a Cost

It is not uncommon, of course, for prices to soar through a major event world cup. Just as they might at the Champions League final, tell, or at the Super Bowl, followers believe to be gashed to some degree when they choose, and it is crucial to remember that it is a choice to join. The price of flights goes up almost instantly. A premium is added to hotel rooms. Private renters spot a chance. There is nothing quite like sports for a grand festival of capitalism at its most rapacious.

Then while that problem is surely not unique to Qatar, it is unarguably more obvious. South Africa and Brazil and Russia could draw on an open network of cheap hostels and midrange hotels, as well as personal homes accessible on Airbnb. Their prices were spiky, too, of course, and the photos from unpleasant personal knowledge did not constantly tally with the truth, but it was likely to attend all those tournaments on a comparative budget. The more daring could hire a van, pitch a tent, or squeeze into a hotel room with far more friends than is suitable.

None of those choices is offered in Qatar. The current hotel infrastructure is almost entirely luxury. Many of the hotels that have been constructed for the tournament, inexplicably, are the same. The few hostels seem to be booked up. Slowly, the authorities have allowed Qatari residents to rent out their homes in private but doing so at the last minute does not just scream low cost.

This is the Football World Cup as Qatar foresees it, and seemingly as FIFA does, too: a premium product, a living knowledge that can be purchased at a particular price point, a playground for the business class, the peripatetic rich, the luxury traveller. It is an event intended by consultants, for professionals, the sort of place in which a massive, fire-breathing spider is hired to hide in sight in the absence of feeling.

The Football World Cup’s Carnival Comes at a Cost
The Football World Cup’s Carnival Comes at a Cost

And this Football World Cup will, unfortunately, be poorer for it. A festival atmosphere is not something that can be commanded into reality. It is not likely to take all the stages and sets and logistics of Glastonbury and simply reconstruct them anywhere else, just as it is not likely to take the organic, authentic tender of thousands of followers from around the world and substitute it with a series of cultural events and sponsor activations.

What does the Football World Cup, what always makes the FIFA World Cup, are the people? Not the ones on the ground, not even the ones in the stands, but then the ones who come just to be there, to sample it, to add colour and noise and joy. It is hard not to worry that many of those followers will have been valued out of Qatar, or excepted under not being allowable into the country without a Football World Cup ticket for a game and that with them the sensation will change, turning the contest into an ersatz version of itself, a compliment to all the things money can buy up to a counting a flame-flinging spider and all of the things that it cannot.

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