With a compact surface area of 11,000km2, Qatar is the smallest nation ever to host a World Cup. And it has enlisted 20,000 football fans from all over the world to help it do so.
Vital support during the tournament
Volunteers who will be working in hotels, hospitals, airports and of course the stadiums themselves to provide vital support during the tournament. So what motivates them?
"It's all about the passion - passion in football and passion in volunteering," says Muhammed Shahid.
"I just wanted to get new experiences," says Ahmed Showair.
"As a passionate football fan as well, for me, it's a golden opportunity for me," says Zeeshan Shafi
Thousands of volunteers from 160 nationalities ranging in age from 18 to 77. They started out as strangers. Now though, many have developed a friendship that goes far beyond the tournament.
"I really get along with my fellow volunteers," says volunteer Rufaro Makambira-Chindalo. "You know, it's like a family. When you are volunteering, when you are meeting them it’s like one big happy family, and it's like a melting pot because we are all from different and diverse cultures. That's the beauty of it. So we've all blended beautifully. We accept each other's differences and cultures. And now I get to know a lot more about people of different nationalities, and they also get to know about me."
More than half a million candidates
For the volunteers, it really has been quite a journey. More than half a million people applied to take part, and they all went through a rigorous selection process: after initial applications, there were trials, then interviews and finally, online and in-person training.
That in-person training started at the Volunteers Hub. With a clubhouse atmosphere and plenty of classroom space, this is where trainers and team members teach up to 750 volunteers per day. The final phase before the games kick off is site-specific training at the stadiums, fan zones and media hub.
"20,000 volunteers will be located in different 45 functional areas with different roles," says Nasser Al-Mogaiseeb, Volunteer Strategy Manager on the Supreme Committee.
"Roles could be related to media, transportation, spectators, guest management, and all these roles will be managed by different leaders to make sure we deliver the right roles for each volunteer and for the spectators as well."
Passion and enthusiasm
But what does it really take to be a successful volunteer?
"Volunteering comes with passion and enthusiasm," says volunteer Emmanuel Alonge. "Without zeal, and passion, there's no room for volunteering. I decided to join volunteering when I came to Qatar far back, six years ago, and what prompted me to join volunteering or to be volunteering is our ability to give back to the people around me. How do you want to give your selfless service to these people around you?"
As well as having passion, the volunteers must also be willing to give up a significant portion of their free time, first with training, and then by committing to a minimum of ten days’ work during the World Cup.
"As a volunteer, we are the face of the tournament," says volunteer Zeeshan Shafi. "And I really, I feel so good to be… to welcome the fans from all around the world and help them to feel at home. And it's very amazing."
An opportunity to learn
They may all have different reasons for getting involved, but they all share one goal: to deliver the Arab world’s first-ever FIFA World Cup. And every volunteer we spoke to highlighted the same thing: the tournament provides a unique opportunity to learn from others.
"I've been here for the past three years in Qatar," says Muhammed Shahid. "You know, Qatar is packed with different nationalities, different cultures. So this is the time to experience all these cultures. And you have to share experience. You have to share your knowledge, everything."
"We are expecting 1.5 million spectators," says Ahmed Showair. "They're going to join and also the FIFA staff and the press, the media. So a lot of people are coming from different parts of the world, from the whole six continents. They are coming to watch this tournament. For me, it's the idea of delivering an amazing tournament to all these people."
For Rufaro Makambira-Chindalo, volunteering is a family affair. Her son and her father will both be flying over from Zimbabwe.
"You know, it all started with the Arab Cup (last year in Qatar)," she says. "That's when I volunteered with my son. The beauty of it is that in 2019 when I came to Qatar, I came as a visitor. My dad was coming for treatment. Actually, it was cancer treatment. So he went through it and in the end, he had radiotherapy and it was done free of charge at Hamad International. So it's going to be three generations: father, daughter and my son. We're all going to be volunteering there and it's going to be super amazing."
And as kickoff draws closer, collaboration becomes ever more important. And these volunteers' participation and willingness to step forward to help Qatar deliver the World Cup is yet another example of the positive power of sport.
Businesses keen to make their mark
With World Cup excitement building in the country, some Qatari residents are hoping to get in on the action. Aadel Haleem met several local businesspeople looking to put their own stamp on Qatar 2022.
Whether it’s in a kitchen, a studio or even a Majlis - the rooms you can find in many Arab homes to have visitors - Qatari residents are using their unique workspaces to play their part in the upcoming Fifa World Cup.
VJ is working on his next showpiece. The pastry chef is making a 35-kilogram chocolate replica of the Lusail Stadium, the site of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 final match. And that’s not all. He plans to top it off with a chocolate replica of the Qatar 2022 logo. It’s a labour of love for the 24-year-old.
"Since I was 8 years old, I always loved doing things that didn’t require me to sit in front of a computer, so both mentally and physically challenging," says VJ. "And pastry is one of the very, very few industries that provides both – challenging both your mental and creative side as well."
VJ estimates it’ll take 25 to 30 hours to complete, from design and planning to the finished product.
With the anticipation of Qatar 2022 building, many local residents are seizing the opportunity to get in on the action.
Across the city, there’s a new installation at the old Doha port. The team at Clay Encounters have opened a new space, just steps from the 974 Stadium. During the World Cup, they’ll partner with cruise ships to host pottery classes for tourists in town for the tournament.
"The site we’re in right now is the production space," says Reema Abu Hassen, owner of Clay Encounters."So, all the production of all the ceramics and the objects and the souvenirs for the World Cup will happen in this area. And then the area behind us will be where the gallery is going to be and the retail space."
Reema Abu Hassen opened her first ceramic design studio in The Pearl residential district five years ago. But with the World Cup coming to her city, she took a leap of faith and opened a second studio space.
"The plan is to kind of accommodate these tourists coming into town," she explains. "So they can experience this traditional craft that’s kind of a local craft and also buy objects that have been handmade in Doha specifically for the World Cup timings."
Abu Hassen says working with her hands helps puts her mind at ease and could provide much-needed relaxation for tense football fans.
"With pottery, there’s a very kind of therapeutic, grounding element to it," she explains. "So, most people come in and they’ve never made anything with their hands. Everyone always describes it as a very meditative kind of process. I think there’s something very, very calming and centring about having to sit and make something with your hands. And because we have a little community around the studio, for me, I associate ceramics also with a community because we always sit and make things as a group. So, it provides this way to connect with people but to also kind of just escape from everyday life."
Pearl diving: a 7,000-year-old trade
And if fans want to escape the city for a bit, Souq Al Wakra sits just south of Doha. Situated in what used to be a small fishing and pearl diving village, the beached boats symbolise the end of the country’s pearling industry.
"So pearl diving, believe it or not, is a 7,000-year-old trade," says Shaima Sherif, Managing Director of Embrace Doha.
Embrace Doha is an independent cultural house that showcases the country’s rich heritage to tourists and ex-pats.
"One example that I personally didn’t know about was sadu weaving," says Sherif. "Qatari women, specifically Bedouin women, would weave and they would weave very intricate patterns and symbols. And these patterns and symbols, if you don’t know about them and you look at it from afar, you’ll think it’s very similar to neighbouring countries but, in fact, they were some very specific ones, and colours, that are unique to the Qatari culture."
Traditionally, Bedouin women would weave the fabric that would make up the walls of their tents. So, with lots of modern experiences available during Qatar 2022, Embrace Doha is hoping to mix sports and culture to give football fans an authentic, traditional taste of Qatari life.
"For the World Cup, we know that most of the people coming to Doha are crazy about football and they’re World Cup fans," says Amal Al Shammari, Founding Director of Embrace Doha. "And that’s why we wanted also to also welcome them in our cultural house. What we’re offering is watching the match with a cultural experience. It’s like watching the match in a Qatari way. So, our offering is they’re going to come one hour before the match to try the clothes and we’ll talk about Qatari hospitality and try Qatari food along with watching that match."
Back in The Cooking Academy, VJ is putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece.
"I always like to exceed expectations," he says. "I like to set them and then purposefully push over them. Because if I meet the expectation… they’re already expecting what they’re going to see. So, my meeting that doesn’t get a 'wow' reaction. It might get a 'wow, that’s nice' but it doesn’t get a ‘WOW! I didn’t expect that.’"
The hope is fans coming for Qatar 2022 will leave with memories that also exceed their expectations.