Qatar to stage manage World Cup fan groups through PR program

LONDON: A program by Qatar to promote the FIFA World Cup will see groups of about 40 fans from more than 30 countries receive pay and expenses in exchange for delivering positive messages about the tournament.

Fan groups from England and Wales are taking part in the Fan Leader Program, which provides free fights and accommodation, spending money and match tickets, The Times reported.

But some supporter groups, including rebels from the England fan base as well as France and the US, have described the program as “sinister” and “distasteful.”

Along with promoting the tournament, program members will be required to perform chants in front of TV cameras and maintain a pro-Qatar presence on social media.

Four members of the official England football team band, including leader John Hemmingham, have agreed to take part in the program.

A document seen by The Times outlining Qatar’s expectations of fan group behavior said: “In celebration of the fans around the world, over the period of five minutes, fan chants from each nation will be played and you will be expected to stand up, sing the song/chant, wave your flags and represent your country.

“The camera will focus on each national fan group in turn. We will share with you the chant/song selected from your country to ensure you are familiar with it. Be ready in your shirt, flags and scarves to cheer and shout.”

During an earlier event to promote the World Cup, Hemmingham said: “Qatar is very safe, there are lots of rules and no crime.”

England’s Football Association said in a statement: “We were told this was an opportunity to engage with fans from all competing nations to ensure that the voice of supporters was clearly heard in the planning for the World Cup and that many international football associations were being approached.

“We have had no more involvement with the scheme, and no sight of the ‘code of conduct’ or any of the terms and conditions of involvement.”

Ronan Evain, executive director of Football Supporters Europe, said: “At best they’re (program members) volunteers for the World Cup and at worst they’re a mouthpiece for the Qatar Supreme Committee.”

Further media reports have led to fears that the program will attempt to silence negative views and dissent among spectators.

Dutch broadcaster NOS quoted a Netherlands football fan who had reportedly agreed to monitor the activity of his compatriots during the tournament.

France fan Joseph Delage told Le Parisien that he had turned down an offer to take part in the program. “Despite the appetizing side of the dish, I preferred to stay true to my values,” he said.

Ahsan Mansoor, World Cup fan engagement director, said at event earlier this year that for fans taking part in the program, “there is no obligation to promote or do anything.”

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