About 7,000 Australians have hit the ground in Qatar to cheer on the Socceroos at the FIFA World Cup – and contrary to many reports coming out of Doha, none of them are going thirsty, with beer flowing in every hotel and fan zone.
The lead-up to the World Cup and Australia’s crucial Group D match against France tomorrow morning at 6am [AEDT] has been marred by plenty of controversies.
They include shoddy and unfinished fan accommodation and a last-minute backflip from the Qatari Royal Family over the service of alcohol inside the stadiums.
The country itself has attracted widespread criticism for its human rights track record, attitudes toward same-sex relationships and the estimated 6500 migrant workers that died constructing the stadiums and accommodation for the World Cup.
Excitement builds as Aussie fans head into Doha from the Qatar airport for the World Cup
It is a multicultural experience in Qatar and Aussie fans are loving meeting football fans from around the world
Fortunately for the Aussie fans, the experience on the ground has been a lot more positive.
They told Daily Mail Australia that the locals have been extremely hospitable and accommodating, and the message of unity is present everywhere.
While the conditions are hot outside, almost everywhere they go is comfortably air-conditioned.
Visiting guests are issued a free SIM card for their phone at the airport with two days of free calls, texts and data.
Socceroos fan Tom gets into the spirit, dressing in traditional thobe (robes) and gutra (head dress)
There is no shortage of beer to be had in Qatar, there are even self service beer walls and happy hours
And while alcoholic drinks are not being served at the stadiums – except in the corporate suites – the beer is flowing everywhere else.
There are self-service troughs, plenty of options in most hotels and restaurants and there is even a happy hour – although don’t go expecting a bargain.
‘How much is happy hour? Not that it matters that much….already spent $100 on 5 beers,’ one Aussie fan asked.
The answer? A reasonable $14 a pint.
Mates Hamish and Tom have been getting fully into the Qatari spirit, donning the local dress of thobes and ghutras, visiting the desert and riding camels.
‘Tom dressed up in the Arab thobes – and everyone loved it – they come up to him and ask for pictures,’ Hamish said.
The Aussies even have a mascot, an inflatable kangaroo named Kev that is touring the country and going to the games with the fans.
There are an estimated 7000 Australians either living in Qatar or visiting the gulf nation for the World Cup
Bilal Solwa (left) is an Australian ex-pat living in Qatar and helping to show the visitors around. He is pictured with his daughter Nura and friend Katie Rodopoulos
Bilal Solwa is an Aussie ex-pat living in Doha and he has been welcoming guests along with his daughter Nura.
‘It’s reaching fever pitch here in Doha, Qatar,’ he said.
‘We’ve got about 4000 Australian fans [and counting] as well as a strong contingent of locally based Australian ex-pats working here.
‘We’ve got a fantastic melting pot of all nationalities.
‘Doha has been the lucky city for us, we qualified here during the playoffs and we’re looking forward to shining against France and a pretty strong group as well.’
Socceroos fans Tom and Hamish ride camels in the Qatar desert as they look to soak up as much of the culture as possible
When it comes to the accommodation side of things, the rooms in the fan village are neat and serviceable.
‘Just landed in Doha. Everything was super organised until I reached the free zone fan village (where I’m staying),’ an Aussie fan posted.
‘A bit chaotic while checking in, long line and they’ll ask you to email them your accommodation confirmation letter. Room is okay-ish, bare minimum and a bit dusty but it’ll do.
Nura with the Australian supporters mascot, an inflatable boxing kangaroo wearing a Socceroos jersey
Doha is a clean and modern city, Aussie fans Tom (left) and Hamish admire the sites on their trip to the World Cup
Overall, Solwa said the entire experience in Qatar was a positive one for all Aussies visiting for he World Cup and living in the country.
‘Despite everything that has been tweeted, debated, argued and written over the past many, many years, the reality on the ground is vastly different,’ he said.
‘The Australians that I’ve engaged with, that I have spoken with, their experience has been largely positive.
‘A lot of them have spoken about the hospitality that they have enjoyed and received and the welcome that they’ve had.
‘The progressive nature of the country, the ambitions, the buildings, the modern nature of Doha and Qatar. I think that needs to get highlighted.’