Photo taken by our Observer on March 8 at Al-Arabi Stadium. He says he received 25 riyals (about 5 euros) for attending the match.
Qatar may be hosting the 2022 World Cup, but its residents are not known for being big football fans. Their lack of interest runs so deep that promoters are resorting to unorthodox means to fill the stadiums — including paying migrant workers to attend the matches. For 5 euros, our Observer attended one of the most recent Qatari League 1 playoff games.
Qatar is not trying to hide the fact that it struggles to fill its football stadiums. To understand why this sport is so unpopular, the authorities conducted an Internet poll last November to survey Qatari residents. The primary reasons given were poor weather, lack of free time, and traffic. Moreover, 69% stated that the presence of people paid to attend the match actually dissuades them from attending.
When asked about these practices by FRANCE 24, an officer for the al-Alhi club denied that spectators were being paid to attend matches. “Yes, we do give sandwiches and gear to our supporters, but they’ve never been paid. It is true that many migrant workers come to the stadium because they enjoy watching our matches. And we sometimes go get them in a bus because they have no other transit options. We do the same with schoolchildren.”
Qatar is not the only Gulf country where match organisers are accused of paying supporters for their attendance. When contacted by FRANCE 24, an Iranian sports journalist who attended the under-17 2013 World Cup organised in the United Arab Emirates explained that promoters would stand outside the stadiums and try to convince people to watch matches for the day in exchange for a $10 payment. Migrant workers, many of whom know the system, come out to find them, he says: “During the World Cup, when Nigeria played, Nigerian nationals came of their own interest to support their team, but when the Emirates team was playing later, these very same Nigerians were sitting in the stadium, supporting the Emirates team.”
Thousands of migrants have travelled to Qatar in the last few years to find jobs, especially in the construction industry. Most of the time, they pay intermediaries to connect them to local companies; then, 90% of the time, their employers end up confiscating their passports. In November 2013, Amnesty International condemned the “alarming level of exploitation in the construction sector” as well as certain cases “resembling slave labour”. In late September, the British daily The Guardian published an investigation that counted 44 fatalities from June to August on a construction site in Qatar, a claim that the authorities denied.

“We aren’t given any work, we are just used to fill up the stadiums”

Our Observer, Abu, is one of these paid supporters. He is originally from Cameroon, where he was a medical technician. He arrived in Qatar three months ago via a recruitment agency. Since then, he has been unable to find work and currently lives in a building occupied mainly by immigrants from Cameroon and Nigeria, as well as Southeast Asia.
They come and pick us up about twice a week. Each time, private buses take us to the stadium - the same kind of buses that take migrant workers to construction sites. It’s extremely rare for Qataris to interact with us directly, so generally Nigerian or Cameroonian intermediaries come get us instead. These men are in the same situation as us – they are unemployed and so agree to do this in exchange for payment. Drivers take us to the stadium. There, they sometimes give us hats and chasubles featuring the team colours. This happened with the al-Alhi club, for instance.
Photo taken by our Observer on March 8. The buses come pick up the migrants to bring them to the stadium.
The last match I watched pitted al-Alhi against Leqwiya, two teams from League 1. That was on March 8 at the Al-Arabi stadium in Doha. We arrived at around 6 pm, watched the match, and then were driven home. The intermediary then paid us during the return trip. Each time, we make between 25 and 30 Qatari Riyals [about 5 to 6 euros]. There are rumours floating around saying that the intermediary is supposed to actually pay us 100 riyals, but it’s hard to know for sure.
The intermediaries made it understood that the clubs were behind this strategy. In the past, some directors have come to thank us at the end of a match and have encouraged us to return. We speak a mix of English and Arabic. They call us “the Cameroonians”. But it’s hard to be sure that they’re the ones giving the orders to pay us.
Photo taken by our Observer on March 8.
Since African immigrants have a harder time finding work here, we outnumber anyone else in the stadium. But on vacation days, we see a lot of Southeast Asian workers [from Nepal, Bangladesh, etc.], and they get paid, too.

This is my only “revenue” for the time being. And I find this humiliating. Nobody gives us work, bosses explain that they prefer to work with Asians, and so we’re used as warm bodies to fill up stadiums. If it weren’t for us, there’d be nobody there. There are migrant workers on one side, and the official gallery with the club owners on the other. They are using us, the most miserable people in the country, to sell a glamorous image of Qatari football. There have been times when there were up to 3,000 migrant workers in a stadium.
In front of the stadium.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.