A man has described his attempts to attend the World Cup opening ceremony as “farcical” and an “absolutely awful experience”.
Thousands of England and Wales fans will watch on in Qatar as both nations begin their bids for World Cup 2022 glory today as millions more watch from home, but the tournament has got off to a rocky start.
BBC One chose not to broadcast the 30-minute opening ceremony featuring Morgan Freeman ahead of the opening game between host nation Qatar and Ecuador, which saw the Gulf state lose 2-0.
Controversy has surrounded the build-up to the tournament, with Qatar’s record on human rights and treatment of migrant workers under scrutiny and several LGBT+ supporters have opted not to travel to the gulf state where homosexuality is still illegal.
One football fan branded the organisation for the opening ceremony an “absolute shambles”.
Sion Morgan, head of audience at Wales Online, described in detail how he and a group of other journalists were driven around aimlessly and shouted at by police as they desperately tried to get to the Al Bayt stadium in time for the event.
“It might have just been me. It might just have been bad luck. Sod’s law. The fact I had the only bus driver in Doha who couldn’t read a map.
“But getting to the opening ceremony and first game of the World Cup was, for me if nobody else, an absolute bloody shambles.
“Let’s make it clear, FIFA make your life extremely easy when you’re an accredited journalist at this tournament. Public transport isn’t just free but shuttle buses specifically take you from your hotel or apartment to every major World Cup venue, via the massive media centre which also caters for your every single conceivable need.
“Getting on the bus to the Al Bayt Stadium was a doddle. But that’s when the fun started.
“The 60,000-seater stadium is sat in the middle of the desert. It is supported by no infrastructure whatsoever other than a road network which (spoiler alert) has its issues.
“There’s no shortage of places to park as you can imagine. It’s flat and vast and dusty. But it was clear as we approached the ground from Doha (a 60-minute journey in good traffic) that something wasn’t quite right.
“Organisers had pleaded with fans to be seated in the stadium for the opening ceremony by 5.30pm. At 4.30pm we could see the stadium. Excitement was building. At 4.45pm we had not moved an inch. Police were waving batons and blowing whistles. Locals were using their horns liberally.
“This is when things got a little farcical. In what I can only describe as a moment of blind panic our driver started traveling at pace back towards Doha. As the Al Bayt slowly disappeared into the distance journalists from around the world brought together on one bus were suddenly speaking the same language through a universal look of confusion.
“We drove for 10 minutes, found a new road and headed back. No, that didn’t work. So we turned back to Doha again, found a new road and saw another angle of the stadium. We didn’t get any closer but we did find a car park. At this point the driver stopped the engine expecting us to get out. The stadium maybe a mile away.
“Some of my foreign colleagues became a little irate at this point. There was shouting. Then a police officer came onboard, then we were back on the road again, and, you’ve guessed it, headed back towards Doha.
“We made three unsuccessful approaches at the Al Bayt, like an aircraft in a storm. On the fourth attempt we got there. Sort of.
“We were dropped off randomly on a dual carriageway and were screamed at by police officers shouting “media” and pointing down the road. Two hours after setting off. I still said ‘cheers drive’ by the way, I’m not a monster.
“A crowd of us started jogging, journalists were running.
“Eventually we were herded in, in some sort of mad scene. The scenes at the gate were chaotic. A mess. Rabbits in the headlights.
“And then we were in and the stadium was beautiful and colourful and exciting and I saw Wales represented with a floating shirt in a classic nonsensical opening ceremony. And that’s all I came for, to be honest.
“But the more serious point is that I did hear some others having issues getting to the stadium. And at the stadium itself some colleagues couldn’t access wifi.
“And that’s the point really. That there has been criticism over whether a place this small can cope with 1.2million people turning up for a few weeks. If the public transport can cope. If the stadiums can cope. And maybe everything will. And maybe it’s unfair to judge anything on one bus journey.
“But I’m just glad Wales fans don’t have to play out in the desert miles away from anywhere during the group stages. Because like everything else about this World Cup, it’s not ideal.”