Fans who have traveled to Qatar as part of a controversial paid-for supporters program have been told by Qatari authorities that their cash has been cut.
The Fan Leader Network is a scheme run by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the Qatari agency responsible for the World Cup. It has recruited supporters from around the globe, offering travel and accommodation and a place at the World Cup opening ceremony in return for enthusiasm and positive social media content. But the Guardian can reveal that a per diem payment for food and drink, upon which some supporters were depending, was canceled just as fans were packing to travel to the Gulf.
Members of the Fan Leader Network from two European countries said their payments had been canceled three days ago and that authorities had blamed the decision on the bad press which followed the revelation that fans were being paid.
Fans were told in a message, seen by the Guardian: “Due to the recent developments in the media, we are keen to protect our visiting fans from the erroneous misinformed statements regarding ‘fans receiving payment for the trip’. Accordingly, the daily allowance will unfortunately no longer be issued. The allowance was intended as a small uplift on your own personal funds to assist with refreshments during your stay.”
Although the fans the Guardian spoke to said the loss of money had not deterred anyone from travelling, they were concerned about how they would pay for the rest of their stay. One fan said they had paid for maintenance for their car on the assumption that the per diem would be coming.
The email sent to members of the Network said: “We requested from the outset that you brought sufficient funds to cover your own living expenses and we have committed to cover flights, accommodation and opening match tickets.”
The news comes two days before the opening ceremony and follows an announcement by Fifa that it would no longer be possible to buy alcohol at World Cup stadiums. This was a decision widely understood to have been forced on football’s governing body at the last minute by Qatar.
Concerns will now rise that further commitments made by the organizers could yet be ignored too, including the safety of LGBTQ+ fans in a country where homosexuality is illegal.
According to the terms and conditions of the Fan Leader Network, initially revealed by the Dutch broadcaster NOS, travelers have been asked to promote the tournament and the experience as part of the trip. Key to the deal will be “’liking’ and re-sharing third-party posts”, and fans have reportedly been asked to flag social media content critical of the event.
One of the fans spoken to by the Guardian understood this arrangement to be something easily achieved, simply by posting the kind of material they would have done anyway.
The executive director of Football Supporters Europe, Ronan Evain, said: “Who would have thought that an authoritarian regime with an appalling workers’ rights record was not to be trusted? I suppose that’s what you get for accepting to be paid the equivalent of a Qatari monthly minimum wage every four days for the pleasure of doing absolutely nothing.”
Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy has been approached for comment.