World Cup fan zone at Al Bidda overwhelmed on opening day

Supporters were turned away from the FIFA Fan Festival in Al Bidda amid chaotic scenes due to overcrowding for the World Cup opener between hosts Qatar and Ecuador on Sunday.

Security shut down access to the Fan Festival as it reached capacity and security services were pushed to physically hold back spectators seeking to get close to the entrance points.

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Though the venue has a capacity for 40,000 spectators, an hour before kick off there were long queues of people still trying to get entry to the park. Due to the weight of the crowd, spectators were being pushed up against the metal barriers and security guards seemed rattled as they attempted to deal with crowds.

Ecuador beat Qatar 2-0 to begin Group A play, with the stands at Al Bayt Stadium emptying out well before the end of the match.

One England fan told ESPN his left side of his body was bruised as a result of the push to get in. As fans left the fanzone later after full time, megaphones were still broadcasting messages asking supporters to move to other areas of Doha, rather than staying near the fan park.

The nearest metro station Corniche was originally meant to be only accessible to fans exiting the station, but that was shut down to prevent the overcrowding.

“It was dangerous,” one fan carrying a child aged nearly four, who had exited the holding area, told Reuters. “They let too many people in. We never made it into the main area and I was glad to leave.”

The police took about 45 minutes to clear the excess fans from the area.

Frustrated local fans, volunteers and media were visibly upset with the police, but supporters of other countries appeared more understanding.

While there was chaos in the holding area, the scene inside the park seemed pleasant, with Brazil fans Andrea Nascimento and Raphael de Jesus appreciating the atmosphere.

“I think Qatar will be a great host. Now that the games are starting, the vibe is building,” Jesus said. “This is my third World Cup after 2014 and 2018, and so far everything has been very well organised.”

Elsewhere, at the famous Souk Waqif market, fans from all over the world converged with many flags from Saudi Arabia and Iran on show plus a strong South American representation.

For 20 Qatari riyals, fans could do three laps of a pen on the back of a muzzled camel, overlooked by the studios of TV broadcasters.

As kick off approached, the narrow streets of the Souk began to empty, the air filled with the scent of spices and dried fruit on sale outside the various shops.

Fans gathered below the TV studios, craning their necks to try to get a view of the action on the big screens through the windows.

A group of fans sat inside a Majlis, an air-conditioned sitting room, with their eyes glued to a television screen.

Several tables set up for Shatranj, an old form of chess, lay vacant on the other side of the room as football fever gripped the patrons at the Majlis.

Information from Reuters was used in this story.