Qatar Offered Fans Free World Cup Trips. But There Was a Catch.
Enlarge this image toggle caption Courtesy Of Qatar Airways Courtesy Of Qatar Airways
Updated: July 24, 2018
It was a free trip for all.
When the FIFA World Cup in Russia concluded its first season this past June, Qatar Airways offered nearly 5,000 of its fans a total of 7,000 free trips — flights, hotel stays and other perks — designed to help everyone see the incredible game.
But all that ended in tears and fury on Nov. 4, 2018.
Doha, where the tournament was held, had been preparing for weeks for just such a response, with high-level officials warning Qatar’s international media and sponsors that violence following the protests would be met with a swift response.
“The World Cup has given us an opportunity to reach out to people we may not have otherwise,” said Al Jazeera English managing editor Alhurra Ahmed Saleh, who covered the World Cup from Russia.
“But we are now being treated like a terrorist state. We have been told we must not return to the country and must give up our passports and visas to return home. I am not returning.”
Al Jazeera is one of two Qatar-owned satellite news outlets in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Qatari government quickly offered a public apology to the Arab world’s most popular news network. It had offered to host a separate, private event on its own time to address concerns about the country’s human rights record.
But Al Jazeera’s president, Hassan Al Thawadi, saw something was fundamentally wrong. He held the organization’s leaders responsible.
“We are a media organization and we should not be treated like people who are being detained and tortured in a jail,” he said in a statement that many saw as a warning.
‘We are now being treated like a terrorist state.’
By the evening of Nov. 4, 2018, there were at least 13,000 demonstrators protesting around Doha. At 9 a.m., thousands of Qatari fans descended on the capital