GENEVA (AP) — Up to 1,600 fans of the teams that qualified for this year’s World Cup are being recruited for an all expenses-paid trip to Qatar to sing in the opening ceremony and stay for at least two weeks promoting positive social media content about the soccer tournament and the host nation.
Fans from each of the 32 teams are needed for a five-minute, fan-themed section of the ceremony before Qatar plays Ecuador in the opening match on Nov. 20. They will perform a chant or song specific to each country, chosen by the organizers, according to documents seen by The Associated Press.
“We will share with you the chant/song selected from your country to ensure you are familiar with it,” organizers told the fans.
The program has excluded “persons with obvious political affiliation” and aims to recruit 30 to 50 supporters from each team who were able to show “their status as a purist fan,” the documents state.
“The camera will focus on each national fan group in turn,” the recruits have been told about the show at Al Bayt Stadium north of Doha. “Be ready in your shirt, flags and scarves to cheer and shout.”
The fans are being offered economy-class flights and use of apartments worth thousands of dollars to stay until at least Dec. 4, or for the entire tournament if they choose, plus a daily allowance of 250 Qatari riyals ($68).
The opening ceremony project is an extension of a longer-term plan by World Cup organizers to choose “Fan Leaders” in each country who are asked to be social media influencers using the hashtag “IAMAFAN.”
Those key fans are asked to “incorporate, where appropriate” content provided by Qatari organizers and support the World Cup “by ‘liking’ and re-sharing third party posts.”
The fan leaders have been told “we are not asking you to (be) a mouthpiece for Qatar,” but “it would obviously not be appropriate for you to disparage” the country or the tournament.
The influencers have also had to agree to “report any offensive, degrading or abusive comments” on social media to the organizing committee and, if possible, take screenshots.
In a statement, Qatari organizers said they had consulted with a “Fan Leader Network” of more than 450 people in 59 countries to help improve the World Cup for visitors.
“As the tournament nears, we have invited our most active fan leaders to personally nominate a small selection of fans to join us as our guests to participate in the opening ceremony,” the Qatari Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy said, as a way of “thanking them for their collaboration.”
The Qataris claim that the influencers are “leaders within their communities.” But the Football Supporters Europe group, which is recognized by UEFA to consult on fan issues, disputed that assertion.
“What is very clear is that they are not fan representatives. They are employees or volunteers of the World Cup and should be considered as such,” FSE executive director Ronan Evain told the AP.
About 1.2 million international visitors are expected in Qatar for the month-long tournament, which has faced criticism and skepticism ever since the gas-rich emirate was picked by FIFA in December 2010.
Qatar was among nine candidates to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. The process later underwent a FIFA-appointed investigation into the integrity of bidding campaigns.
The FIFA ethics committee, which had limited powers to gather evidence, said in a 2014 report published in full three years later that there was widespread misconduct among the bidders but it had not swayed the hosting votes. Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup and Qatar got the 2022 edition.
Qatar has since faced intense scrutiny and criticism of its treatment of migrant workers, who were needed to build essential World Cup projects including stadiums, metro lines, roads, hotels and apartments, often in oppressive heat.
Although Qatar bid to stage a June-July tournament with air-conditioned stadiums, FIFA decided in 2015 to move the World Cup into cooler months in the middle of the traditional European soccer season.
Fans who wished to be picked for the trips to perform in the opening ceremony had to send a statement or image showing their love of soccer by an Oct. 10 deadline. They are being given tickets only to the opening match, during what was described to them as a “curated visit to Qatar” with no obligation to take part in other events such as a soccer tournament for fans.
“It is an unpaid and voluntary role,” the Qatari organizing committee said.
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Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press