World Cup organizers defend Qatar residents as ‘real fans’

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Amid skepticism after days of fan parades in Doha and throngs of people greeting team buses arriving at hotels, World Cup organizers insisted Wednesday the atmosphere is authentic.

“Numerous journalists and commentators on social media have questioned whether these are ‘real’ fans,” Qatari tournament organizers said in a statement. “We thoroughly reject these assertions, which are both disappointing and unsurprising.”

Many fans who have gathered wearing team colors are originally from India — a cricket-crazed country which never played at a World Cup — and among the large majority of overseas workers in Qatar’s 2.9 million population.

Fans traveling from overseas typically do not arrive at a World Cup until closer to their teams’ first game and the tournament starts on Sunday.

One video clip posted from outside the England team hotel Tuesday showed fans chanting the line “It’s coming home” from the “Three Lions” fan anthem sung since 1996.

Suggestions that Qatar was hiring people to be fans followed reports this month that tournament organizers were paying all expenses for about 1,600 fans drawn from the 31 visiting teams to travel and sing in the opening ceremony on Sunday before the home team plays Ecuador.

The invited fans must stay for at least two weeks and are encouraged to post positive social media content about Qatar and the tournament, while reporting accounts which post abusive comments online.

The rebuttal Wednesday by Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy defended soccer fans living in the country “many of whom share emotional connections with multiple nations.”

“In different places around the world, fans have different traditions, different ways to celebrate, and while that may contrast with what people are used to in Europe or South America, it doesn’t mean the passion for football is any less authentic,” organizers said.

Fans living in Qatar could also buy cheaper match tickets in a category exclusively for residents.

They cost 40 riyals ($11) for each of the 47 group-stage games played after the Qatar-Ecuador opener, compared to the lowest price of 250 riyals ($69) for international visitors.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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