It was never going to be a traditional World Cup.
Innovating in the Middle East and playing for the first time during the European winter, it was always going to look and feel different.
Qatar has been described by some as the host of the most controversial World Cup tournament, with criticism ranging from alleged corruption in the bidding process to a callous disregard for human rights.
It is undoubtedly fair to shine a light on the deaths and conditions endured by migrant workers to make this tournament happen, as well as LGBTQ and women’s rights, although some Qataris might wonder why their country made the leap. come under such intense criticism as countries with questionable human rights records, or laws that restrict the freedoms of certain members of society, have also hosted major sporting events in recent years.
The last World Cup was held in Russia, for example, a country that has banned anyone from promoting same-sex relationships or suggesting that non-heterosexual orientations are “normal.”
But the world is complicated and full of contradictions, and hosting a major sporting event is more than just a country’s politics. It is also about its culture and its people, their hopes and dreams.
Over the past four weeks, this small Gulf state has truly become a global village. Fans from all 32 teams, along with supporters from many other countries, mingled cheek by jowl in a way that had never been possible in previous tournaments, which were spread over much larger geographical areas.
At times, it was hard to tell who was cheering on whom as processions of cheering fans followed drummers through Souq Waqif, a market in downtown Doha, drunk solely with the joy of the shared experience.
“The atmosphere here in Qatar is like a Moroccan wedding,” a fan told CNN at the height of the festivities. “When everyone enjoys the music and sings, it’s like a big party.”
Morocco’s thrilling run to the semi-finals was a watershed moment for the sport, the first time a team outside of Europe and South America reached the final week in the tournament’s 92-year history.
But even before the Atlas Lions’ emotional victory over Portugal, it was already Africa’s most successful World Cup, just like for Asia, which saw three teams – Japan, Korea South and Australia – qualifying for the Round of 16 for the first time ever. In 2005, world governing body FIFA ratified Australia’s move from the Oceania Football Confederation to the Asian Football Confederation.
There were certainly matches that will be remembered for years.
Saudi Arabia scored an unmatched result beating Argentina in their opening game, while Iran managed to shine despite protests and violence in their home country with admirable performances against the Wales and the United States.
It was a tournament in which underdogs challenged the old world order and won universal respect for it.
Moroccan fan Boubker Benna told CNN he believes the message of this World Cup is self-determination.
“You may be an outsider,” he said, “but if you do your job, you can achieve really great things. That’s what [Morocco head coach] Walid Regragui tries to prove. And that’s what Morocco is trying to prove.
It’s not uncommon to see African fans supporting other teams from their continent, but it was particularly striking to witness the shared joy in Qatar, where CNN spoke with fans from Egypt, from Syria, Sudan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian territories. , all cheering for Morocco in the final stages.
“If France plays, you will only find French people supporting their team, never England or Germany behind them. And I don’t know why,” explained Moroccan fan Adam Marzoug.
He continued, “That’s why it’s special for Arab, Muslim and African countries. That’s what makes us strong in every tournament, it’s just the beginning.
His friend, Oumaima Amallah, added: “Despite all the political and historical problems, Muslims, Arabs and Africans love each other and they are like brothers and sisters and everyone is happy for us, as if they would be happy for their own nation”.
It was almost poetic that Morocco overthrew two of its former colonizers, Spain and Portugal, and faced a third, France. But any settling of accounts was done politely, with respect.
Fans who spoke to CNN would always praise Qatar for hosting the World Cup and express their gratitude and thanks for bringing it to the region.
And while there was a surprise, even an outcry in some media, when Budweiser vending machines were removed from the stadium lobbies on the eve of the tournament, did anyone really miss the booze? a ?
Certainly many we spoke to, including former player-turned-broadcaster Ally McCoist, agreed that the atmosphere among the crowds was much more pleasant as a result.
We’ve seen security personnel at stadiums respectfully ask bare-chested Argentine fans to cover up, humbly gesturing with their palms closed by their chests. Local customs were followed and cultures exchanged. The sea of humanity that flowed from every stadium to the subway station passed through a series of musicians and dancers.
What could have been described as a culture shock was more like a cultural exchange here in Qatar.
“We have to be open-minded,” said another Moroccan fan, David Hamriri, an engineer currently working in Europe. “I am very rich, culturally, because I am open-minded.
“We have emotions,” he continued, “We have many conflicts in the world. But when you love football, you forget about this problem. You forget about the economic crisis, and you come back to the origin. A value of humanity shared between western and eastern society.I find that incredible.
The fans CNN spoke to left Qatar with positive memories of their experiences.
England fan Theo Ogden, who attended all 64 games of the tournament, told CNN: “People said you couldn’t have it in the desert, and they proved them wrong.
“They were so welcoming. You won’t find a fan here who will say he had a bad time, and that’s because he’s so hospitable. I think we don’t talk about it enough. »
Ogden could only have tried his feat at this World Cup, where each stadium was only a metro or a taxi away.
The landmass of the 2026 World Cup will be almost 2,000 times greater in the United States, Mexico and Canada. Qatar managed to turn the most popular game in the world into something much smaller, and that was all the better for them.
From field results to field experience. Qatar 2022 was memorable.
But we must not forget that there were members of the football community who refused to travel here, LGBTQ fans who felt it was not safe for them to support their teams because of the laws of the Gulf State. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable by up to three years in prison.
LGBTQ rights were an issue that would not go away during the tournament, as there were also reports of security officials asking people to remove rainbow-colored clothing – a symbol of LGBTQ pride.
FIFA’s decision to threaten sanctions on any player wearing a ‘OneLove’ armband, which features a heart containing different colors to promote inclusion, has driven a wedge between the sport’s governing body and the seven European nations whose captains planned to wear it.
The best photos from the 2022 World Cup
Two migrant workers are believed to have died during this World Cup – John Njue Kibue, 24, of Kenya, who is believed to have fallen while on duty at Qatar’s Lusail Stadium and another worker who died at the compound used by the Saudi Arabia during the group stages.
And it is difficult to verify how many migrant workers have died as a result of work carried out on projects related to the tournament.
The football was fascinating, yes, the atmosphere during these four weeks was exhilarating, but for some this tournament had a cost and we must not forget that.