2022 World Cup Impressions from a Croatian Female Football Journalist in Qatar

2 months ago Total Croatia News

November 24, 2022 - The media has had a lot to say heading into the controversial 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but what’s it really like on the ground? TCN Sports Editor Daniela Rogulj shares her impressions as a Croatian female football journalist in Qatar. 

There has been a lot said going into this World Cup, and I won’t bore anyone by repeating it. Having read many articles before I departed for Doha on November 21, I, too, was a bit nervous. From the rules in Qatar to the FIFA organization, how would the world's biggest football tournament play out?

I will begin by saying this - Qatar has exceeded my expectations. 

I arrived at 4 am on November 22, unsure how I would begin the journey to my accommodation in The Pearl district of Doha, located north of Hamad Airport. The metro didn’t start running until 6 am, meaning two hours to kill at the airport were inevitable. After disembarking the plane, there was undoubtedly some anxiety surrounding customs and having the correct documentation (which I checked 100 times). But the journey from the plane, through passport control and customs, was a breeze. I was off the plane and through customs in 15 minutes, along with several other Croatia fans. 

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Once I made it into baggage claim, hundreds of football fans from all over the world arrived too, at 4 am, enthusiastically wearing the jerseys of their national teams. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an airport so full of life at 4 am, with so many people on the ground, ready to help anyone who needed assistance find the right transportation to their accommodation. Free SIM cards were also handed out at the airport to all fans, valid for three days. A wonderful gesture that everyone appreciated. 

And another wonderful gesture? All public transport is free during the World Cup, making it easy for fans to get around by simply showing their Hayya Card. 

The 6 am metro to Legtaifiya Station, where I needed to connect to get the bus to The Pearl, was perhaps the cleanest metro I’ve seen. And it was packed with football fans and Qatari locals heading to work. A wonderful mix of fan atmosphere and everyday local life during the world's biggest tournament. 

Arriving in The Pearl without WiFi and relying on a GPS location sent by FIFA for my apartment building was... not the easiest time. It was 7 am, getting warm, and I was being spun into circles trying to find the building. Fortunately, I was able to catch a few locals walking their dogs at 7 am, who happily helped and directed me as best they could. I ended up in the wrong building anyway. The wonderful receptionist at the building spent 45 minutes with me to find the right building, as did lovely security guards along the way. This was by far the most stressful part of my time here, and it has been smooth sailing ever since. 

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My Accommodation 

Is a dream. I booked through the official FIFA media accommodation. While not cheap ($265/night), I have an enormous one-bedroom, 1.5-bath apartment with a full kitchen, TV, and balcony hovering over the heart of The Pearl. The Pearl area is a luxurious artificial island on the coast, built on one of Qatar’s previous major pearl diving sites, as Qatar was once a major pearl trader. The Pearl resembles a string of pearls, and it’s an absolute gem sprinkled with high-rise apartment buildings, luxury brands, and bustling shops and restaurants. Not to mention that everything stays open until at least 2 am, including restaurants and markets. No matter the hour, everyone is out having a good time. 

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The Locals

I've encountered the loveliest locals, and I can't say enough about how incredible they have been. Everyone has been beyond eager to help, with a smile. No matter where I’ve gone, from public transport to coffee shops or supermarkets, I have felt welcomed. They have given up their seats for me on the metro, escorted me to my final destination, and shared their mobile phone hotspots when I didn’t have service. Overall, the locals are proud to show their country to the world, and their genuine hospitality so far has been second-to-none. I've made an effort to speak to as many as I can. 

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The Prices 

Well, The Pearl isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s also about knowing where to go, which took a few days. For example, a large iced coffee in a tourist area can cost you 6 EUR, while around the corner, you can find it for half the price. The Monoprix supermarket near my accommodation can be compared to Whole Foods, though you can go to the Spar market just a few minutes further instead. A 1.5-liter bottle of water is just over 1 EUR. Meals average around 40-60 QAR, or 10 to 15 EUR, depending on where you decide to eat. You also have a world of choices depending on your budget, from Nando’s to Burger King and Fatburger or much nicer international restaurants. The food options are endless. 

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Media Perks

Indeed my experience as media is different from a fan, and there are definitely perks. Like media transport from my accommodation to the main media center. From there, I pick up a media shuttle to the stadium. The buses run frequently, and you can catch one every 15 minutes ahead of games. After the match, you hop back onto the media transport to the main media center. The only downside? Some stadiums take over an hour to get to. Buses back to the accommodations run every 30 minutes after the match. My bus journey is a bit longer compared to others staying in more central Doha areas, but all buses have WiFi and are beyond comfortable. If I catch a match at 10 pm, I return to my accommodation around 2 am.

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Media also has more affordable prices at the main media center. For example, a water bottle and Americano iced coffee cost me just over 2 EUR the other day, while there is also an affordable fresh buffet and grab-n-go sandwich options. 

Pro tip: Uber is also ridiculously cheap in Qatar, and many journalists have also been using the app to get around if they don't want to rely on media transport. 

The Matches

A big bonus to having the World Cup in a small country like Qatar is its accessibility, allowing fans and media to see as many games as they can - or two a day! I've applied for 11 games while I am here or one a day, mainly to ensure I have time on the laptop to deal with other commitments. TCN photojournalist Slobodan Kadić is hopping around to two a day, getting the most out of this World Cup experience.

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The stadiums are also as high-tech as you've seen on TV. I have been to two stadiums so far - Al Janoub for France v. Australia and Al Bayt for Morocco v. Croatia. 

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The Heat

Perhaps the only downside thus far, and not because it’s brutally hot. It’s been a comfortable 28-29 degrees Celsius since I arrived, but that doesn’t stop everyone from blasting the air con as if we were in 40+ temperatures. This has been especially tough for European journalists (and apparently teams) who aren’t used to air conditioning. I’ve noticed many blowing their noses while asking bus drivers to switch off the air completely. I almost feel as if I’m back in the United States.

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The Clothing

I was initially quite nervous about this aspect after reading countless blogs about the appropriate attire in Qatar, especially considering the high temperatures. So I packed accordingly, with long trousers, light denim jeans, and linens as often as possible. All t-shirts also cover my shoulders to respect the rules in place. However, it's not as strict as it was made out to be. May fans and ex-pats have walked around in tank tops and shirts, mixing with locals dressed far more conservatively. I haven’t seen anyone asked to cover up yet, though I know stricter rules apply in different areas. 

The Booze & Nightlife

While I have yet to experience it, I have spoken to many others here for the tournament or who have been here setting up for the last month. There are several places to find international beverages, from hotels to some pubs, as well as music festivals and DJ events running until the early morning hours. It seems to be a lot easier than many thought. The official FIFA fan zones also sell beer. I will make it there eventually. 

And have I been treated any differently as a female journalist here?

Absolutely not, even though our male counterparts hugely outnumber us. 

Overall, my time in Qatar has been better than I imagined. Here’s to another exciting eight days and much more to come. 

To follow the latest sports news in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page. 
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