Fake fans, supporters as spies and a clampdown on media - the most bizarre World Cup Finals is underway

Controversy has followed the World Cup Finals ever since Qatar was named as the first Gulf State to host the tournament - and the questions continue to flow.

The understandable anger and cynicism shown towards the award of this year’s World Cup Finals to Qatar began within seconds of Sepp Blatter’s controversial announcement.

The questions were immediate, the shock over the decision was clear to see and there were serious accusations over why the Gulf State had been awarded the tournament. Of course, football is a global game but with that comes great responsibility and in handing the tournament to a country with a questionable human rights record, FIFA had neglected their role in being guardians of the game.

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Twelve years have passed since that fateful day when Blatter stood up on stage and announced Qatar had won the right to host this year’s tournament and the anger and frustration over the decision has hardly subsided. Conversations over Qatar’s policy on LGBTQ+ rights, workers rights and the political situation in the country have continued and will go on beyond next week’s big kick-off.

In the face of such criticism, you would expect the tournament’s organisers to make positives steps to welcome supporters, players and officials from around the globe and answer some of the many questions thrown their way. But instead, answers have been clouded in mystery and some of the decisions taken have been bizarre to say the least.

England supporters have already started to arrive in Qatar and more will follow over the coming days. A quick look on social media has already shown below-par facilities, fan zones without any shade from the searing heat and, in some cases, accommodation that is yet to be completed.

That is without even considering the farcical situation that has seen Qatar accused of paying hundreds of fake supporters to parade for the media before the tournament gets underway. Videos of Brazil, Argentina, Ghana and England supporters with painted faces, waving flags, singing songs and chanting were shared via the ‘Qatar Living’ TikTok account and questions have been asked over the validity of those fans.

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The Times also reported further accusations revolved around a group of 40 England fans that had been paid to sing at the opening ceremony, deliver positive messages and report critical social media posts in return for free flights and accommodation, £60 a day in spending money and complimentary tickets.

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It should be added, Qatar hit back at the claims, with the organising committee releasing a statement saying: “Fans from all over the world - many of whom have made Qatar their home - have contributed to the local atmosphere recently, organising fan walks and parades throughout the country, and welcoming the various national teams at their hotels. Numerous journalists and commentators on social media have questioned whether these are ‘real’ fans. We thoroughly reject these assertions, which are both disappointing and unsurprising.”

The whole situation neatly sums up the bizarre nature of what we are all encountering as we head into a tournament that usually conjures up passion, excitement and anticipation in abundance. FIFA have far from helped the situation, with president Gianni Infantino called on participating countries to put politics to one side and ‘focus on the football’.

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There have been a whole host of countries and key players within their national sides that have already commented on a number of controversies and have insisted they will continue to do so throughout the tournament.

Perhaps it is a coincidence, but a media crew from one of those countries was stopped from filming a live news broadcast on Tuesday, despite holding the necessary credentials to do so. A Danish reporter was approached by officials whilst on air and was threatened live on television. An apology was given by the organising committee and an advisory was issued for all officials to respect the filming permits in place for the tournament.

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It was an apology you suspect will not be the last before this unrecognisable World Cup Finals comes to a close next month.

Original story appeared on appeared on 3 Added Minutes - a new football site that goes beyond the 90 minutes of football reporting.