India does not play in the FIFA World Cup, which is held in Qatar. Still, the Indian fans in the host country are hard to ignore.
That’s not surprising. Nearly 750,000 Indians (pdf) live in Qatar with around 3 million inhabitants. Then there are the visitors.
For example, Naaji Noushia 33-year-old housewife and mother of five from the southern Indian town of Mahe, has traveled 2,973 road kilometers to compete in the World Cup since October 15.
Other Indians like them also spend money, but on plane tickets. That Demand for private jets from India to Qatar is at an all-time high. What’s more, thousands of their relatively meager earnings are spent on tickets.
What about India’s love of football?
India, which will be the world’s most populous nation in 2023 with more than 1.4 billion people, has the numbers on its side to boast a distinct fanbase.
But overall the country is not crazy about football. It holds the 106th place among the 200 FIFA teams. India’s staple has always been cricket.
In some parts of the country, however, traditionally everything revolves around the beautiful game. These include West Bengal on the east and Goa on the west coast.
And then there is Kerala.
Outside of their home countries, Brazil, Argentina and Portugal may have some of their most devoted fans in this southern Indian coastal state.
From team specific food counters at weddings to gigantic cut outs of players set up in the countryside to also light violence– everything happens in Kerala on behalf of star teams.
The World Cup in Qatar is all the more special.
With India nowhere near hosting an event like this in at least a few decades, for many from Kerala it’s the most obvious and easiest chance to experience the adrenaline rush. Because Qatar is a second home for many of them.
Of Kerala’s 35 million inhabitants 300,000 are in Qatar. Thousands of them have also been part of World Cup-related projects, including building stadiums.
Nishad Azeem is a second generation Indian expat in the Gulf nation. His company Coastal Qatar has installed 350,000 seats in six such facilities, supplied secondary steel for some and built 2,000 toilet stalls and players’ dressing rooms. mint reported.
The Indian presence is therefore felt strongly elsewhere, according to Mint, from music to food and other areas of entertainment. One of them even helped open around 60 food stalls in a stadium.
The Indian fans controversy
The overwhelming presence of Indians in Qatar has also caused problems for the World Cup organizers. “Paid Indian fans” allegedly organized rallies in Doha ahead of the event to rally support for the host country.
Nasser Al Khate, CEO of World Cup 2022, rejected the claims.
“They are mainly from the Indian community (in Qatar) and particularly from southern India. I know soccer is the number one sport in Kerala. Everyone thinks cricket is the number one sport, but football is actually the number one sport there,” he said.