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Free trips for fans to Qatar World Cup is just soft power doing what it does best

Unless handpicked supporters post positive messages about tournament, contracts will be deemed broken

The latest well-informed celebrity gossip magazine promises former England captain Mike Tindall is entering the jungle for I’m A Celebrity. You might remember him from the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, when the England team decamped to a club in Queenstown that, for the entertainment of patrons, hosted “Mad Midget Weekend” that included a dwarf-tossing contest.

The tossers that night were ... well, you can guess. Believed to have originated in Australia, the activity involves people with dwarfism dressed in padded clothing or Velcro costumes being hurled at Velcro-coated walls to which they either stick or bounce.

Not one England player threw a dwarf, said Tindall — who is married to Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne and granddaughter of the late Queen Elizabeth II. Still, he sucked up a fine of £25,000 later reduced to £15,000.

Tindall will be handsomely rewarded for his foray into unfamiliar territory, as will a large group of fans and influencers from 60 countries, who will travel to Qatar next month for the World Cup. It kicks off on Sunday, November 20th at the Al Bayt Stadium when the hosts take on Ecuador in Group A. Quite the silent, sneak-up event this World Cup has become.


The fans have been asked to travel to the desert state, jump through hoops and swallow things they don’t want or, like Tindall in the jungle, be voted out of their air-conditioned hotels.

For their anticipated obedience, flights, hotels and match tickets will be generously covered by the World Cup organisers

They will be asked to post information that will be screened and filtered for unsuitable broadcast material. If they don’t get with the programme with unrelenting upbeat posts, they become contract-breakers. For their anticipated obedience, flights, hotels and match tickets will be generously covered by the World Cup organisers.

The modestly named Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy confirmed the policy of inviting groups of supporters to the finals as guests after reports by Dutch public broadcaster NOS said last Sunday that Qatar was paying for flights and hotels for a group of 50 Dutch fans. The New York Times said the number totals 500 fans, while the Associated Press (AP) believes the amount to be 1,600. Either way, it’s a lot of fans.

The Qatar World Cup describes its Fan Leaders programme as a network of around 400 fans and influencers, who have offered “insights, research, content creation and message amplification” for the tournament.

Like any decent paid-for service, the handpicked group have also been asked to welch on others, who are not so moved towards total positivity about Qatar running the greatest show on earth.

In accepting the football trip of a lifetime, they will be expected to abide by agreements that will require them to sing what they’re told to sing, post only positive messages and report the more egregious social media posts made by other fans critical of Qatar.

The invitations to the groups went out in September with the state making it clear how the chosen ones are supposed to behave.

According to documents and contracts reviewed by the New York Times, participants have been warned that although they are not being asked to be a “mouthpiece” for the country or the tournament, “it would obviously not be appropriate for you to disparage Qatar, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (or other relevant entities related to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022) or the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. We know you have your own opinions, and your own style, so based on the facts we present to you, share them in a manner that suits you.” Those who breach regulations are also warned about the dismissal option.

People do lots of things for free stuff and money. There’s the guy who ate a used band-aid from the floor of the science room for €20. There’s the student who allowed a research assistant to inject him 10 times with water to register pain thresholds, all for €50. That at least was in the name of science. There’s the teenager who accepted €10 to put Lego inside his socks and walk around for half an hour.

There is a queasy feeling about the incorporation of ‘fans’ into taking the ‘trip of a lifetime’

Mike Tindall may be asked to crunch into an arachnid or slip an invertebrate into his mouth. He may have a minor freakout when a box of rats runs over his head or he is asked to stick his hand into a dark cavity which is actually a slithery nest of vipers. Nothing too fatal.

But if Tindall remains square-jawed and crafty about it and he doesn’t get all whiny over the croc-infested river or lack of creature comforts befitting the spouse of a royal, he could emerge as the sweaty beefcake, his dignity a well-beaten docket but with his integrity intact.

That’s why there is a queasy feeling about the incorporation of “fans” into taking the “trip of a lifetime” and dispersed into all realms of the soccersphere to pose like fans, integrate like fans, speak like fans and act like fans — but who are actually undisclosed hired hands grinding out approved messages as part of a bustling public relations effort.

On the flip side, it’s quite a modern approach and relatively cheap. Just soft power doing what it does. Low grade and no integrity.