World Cup organisers have insisted the atmosphere around the tournament in Qatar is authentic after reports suggested authorities were hiring people to support the 32 teams.
After days of fan parades in Doha and throngs of people greeting team buses arriving at hotels, Qatari organisers issued a statement saying: “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.”
Many people who have gathered wearing team colours are originally from India — a cricket-crazy country which has never played at a World Cup — and among the large majority of overseas workers in Qatar’s 2.9 million population.
Fans travelling from overseas do not usually arrive at a World Cup until closer to their team’s first game, and the tournament starts on Sunday.
One video clip posted from outside the England team hotel on Tuesday showed a group chanting “It’s coming home” from the Three Lions fan anthem sung since 1996.
Suggestions that Qatar was hiring people to be fans followed reports that organisers were paying all expenses for about 1,600 fans from the 31 visiting teams to travel and sing in the opening ceremony on Sunday before the home team plays Ecuador.
The invited fans must stay for at least two weeks and are encouraged to post positive social media content about Qatar and the tournament, while reporting accounts that post abusive comments online.
The rebuttal on Wednesday by Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy defended fans living in the country, “many of whom share emotional connections with multiple nations”.
“In different places around the world, fans have different traditions, different ways to celebrate, and while that may contrast with what people are used to in Europe or South America, it doesn’t mean the passion for football is any less authentic,” it said.
Fans living in Qatar could also buy cheaper match tickets in a category for residents.
They cost 40 riyals (€10.56) for each of the 47 group-stage games played after the Qatar-Ecuador opener, compared with the lowest price of 250 riyals (€66) for international visitors.