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Fact check: Did Qatar 'buy' World Cup fans?

November 18, 2022

Free flights, hotels and tickets have brought fans from Argentina, England, Germany and elsewhere to Doha. Some say Qatar has picked up the tab for select soccer fans in order to sanitize its image. DW checks the fact.

Man in a football jersey cheers amid a crowd; there are vuvuzelas and the English flag
Observers say people who marched through Doha in early November weren't real fansImage: AP

Days before the start of the FIFA World Cup 2022, host country Qatar is once again facing criticism, accused now of paying football fans for positive social media posts.

Claim: "Qatar Has Purchased World Cup Fans!" read the headline of an article in the German newspaper Bild that claimed that the country was paying the travel costs of select international fans. Other international media offered similar reports. The Dutch broadcaster NOS was the first to report that fans received flights and hotels in exchange for their social media reach.

DW fact check: True.

Qatar invited certain international football fans to the World Cup and covered their flights, hotels and incidental travel costs. The Supreme Committee (SC), which is responsible for the tournament organization, confirmed this to DW. The so-called Fan Leader Network is aimed at "individuals who are passionate about football and keen to share key information with their friends and contacts about Qatar's hosting of the FIFA World Cup 2022." According to the Southern Sydney news site theleader.com.au, the initiative involves about 1,600 fans from around the world. The SC denies that the fans were paid in exchange for "coordinated promotion for the World Cup" and issued a statement describing the report as "absolutely false."

The SC has outlined its expectations of fans in an advertising contract. DW has seen this "Code of Conduct," which was first published by NOS and states that fans are contractually required to "support the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 World Cup by 'liking' and re-sharing third-party posts about the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022" and using the hashtags #IAMAFAN and #Roadto2022.

Participating fans are also informed that the SC will be "monitoring" their posts and that the body can demand that they delete content that violates the Code of Conduct. Additionally, an appendix on "Good Posting Principles" stated that "it would obviously not be appropriate for you to disparage Qatar, the Supreme Committee ... or the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022." 

By virtue of their inclusion in a contractual document, the demands placed on the fans are directly related to the noncash benefits: the free flights, hotel accommodations, match tickets and pocket money. These can therefore be seen as a quid pro quo for promoting the World Cup on social media networks. The World Cup organizers even write on their own website: "Fan Leader Network playing a key role in promoting the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022."

Participating fans confirmed the content of Qatar's offer to DW. "The offer included an airplane ticket, the hotel and a ticket to the opening match," said Joseph Delage, a French fan. "But you had to stay for the whole first round. The idea was that you would also take part in cultural and sport-related activities." 

Lee Kormish, of Canada, accepted the offer and traveled to Qatar. He told DW that he did not get a Code of Conduct but did receive flights, a hotel, a free ticket to the opening match and money for daily meals. He describes his apparently uniformly positive experience in Qatar in his video blog.

Delage rejected Qatar's offer. He believes that the country is using it to buy fans who will view it positively.

3 police officers stand amid the flags of many nations, with some people and palm trees
Observers say Qatar has used the World Cup to improve its image as a repressive stateImage: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Claim: Since mid-November, videos have been circulating showing "fan marches" in Doha that include spectators from numerous participating nations. However, many social media users have questioned the authenticity of the videos. "Qatar bought fake fans because nobody wants to go there," one user wrote. Another wrote: "Okay, they bought 'fans.'"

DW fact check: Unproven.

The DW fact check team was unable to find any evidence that the fans shown in the videos had been paid for participating in the marches. What is true is that thousands of fans from participating nations made their way through Doha on November 11, passing the Royal Palace, among other sites. According to our information, most of them were migrant workers, and many were from India, such as Rashiq, who spoke to news agency AFP. "I'm from India, and I've worked for nine years here in Qatar. I love English football, so I'm supporting England," he said, while sporting an English team jersey." We're all from Kerala in India," he added.

AFP reported that the fan march had been registered beforehand with the police, who did not intercede in the proceedings — in contrast to most similarly large gatherings in Qatar. An event organizer told AFP that many of the participants were migrant workers who had received match tickets for the highly reduced price of $10. Organizers of the fan march did not respond to a request for comment from DW.

This article was originally written in German.