Thousands of migrant workers wearing the colors of Argentina, Brazil and England staged a World Cup rally in Doha on Friday, less than 10 days from the start of the tournament.
Fans of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Harry Kane converged on the Doha waterfront for a march that normally wouldn’t have been allowed, according to an AFP reporter.
The fans came mainly from the state of Kerala, a football stronghold in India which also accounts for a large part of the Indian migrant community in Qatar of around 750,000. Qatar has a total population of approximately 2.8 million.
The hordes showed up at the social media event and marched behind the batsmen to the World Cup countdown overlooking the Gulf.
“The police have been notified in advance and it is our day,” said an organizer who requested anonymity.
Demonstrations and gatherings are rare in Qatar and normally face tight security, but police monitored supporters from a discreet distance on Friday.
“Foreign workers in Qatar love football and they bought a lot of tickets,” the organizer added.
“It’s the first World Cup in an Arab country, but in many ways it will also be the first World Cup in South Asia.”
Fans donned the blue and white stripes of Argentina and Brazil’s yellow jerseys, bearing the names of Messi and Neymar, but also Indian names.
They walked past the Royal Palace in Doha, where it is normally illegal to take a photo of the building.
Qatar has been the center of scrutiny over its treatment of foreign workers. Most of those who attended the football rally did not give their full names because they did not want employers to know.
“It’s a happy day for us,” said a man named Rajesh. “There will be no politics, we will sing and sing about football – especially Lionel Messi.”
“It’s our freedom of expression,” said another man wearing a Messi shirt, who went by the name Aju.
“Of course some of us have tough jobs, we hear the stories, but the World Cup is a once in a lifetime event.”
Residents of Qatar were the main ticket buyers for the tournament, with some low-cost $10 tickets earmarked for migrant workers. India was also a key market for ticket sales.
The rally took place the day after the United States became the first team to arrive in Qatar for the event which begins on November 20.
“Seeing the players land in Doha, the coaches announcing their squads and the players reacting with such natural and unbridled emotions…has excited the world of football,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino.