Thousands of migrant workers gathered in a stadium in the Qatari capital, Doha, to watch the opening match of the World Cup, which is being held for the first time in the Middle East, as they took selfies from the stands and enjoyed sitting on the grass.
A special fan zone set up in the industrial area on the outskirts of the city included a stadium with a giant TV screen, and another large screen installed outside for a large crowd.
This area has been established next to a number of labor camps where hundreds of thousands of low-income workers live in Qatar.
“We are here now to enjoy the fruits of our effort and sweat,” Ronald Senyondo, a 25-year-old Ugandan, said Sunday.
Senyondo has been living in Qatar for two years and has worked long hours in the sun to finish building and equipping the stadiums for the tournament.
“I’m overwhelmed with feelings about what I’m seeing now,” he said.
The rich gas-producing country has a population of 2.9 million, the vast majority of whom are foreign workers of various levels ranging from low-income construction workers to top executives.
Rights groups accuse the authorities of not protecting low-income workers, including those who built stadiums and hotels to host World Cup fans, from overwork, unpaid wages and poor living conditions.
The government says it has implemented labor reforms that include a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals, or about $275, more than many people can earn back home.
Tickets for the opening game cost an average of $200, but the Industrial Fan Zone was free.
Thousands flocked to cheer Qatar on Sunday and expressed their grief after the opening match ended with Ecuador winning 2-0.
Some told Reuters that this is the way for them to watch a match up close during the World Cup.
“I help my brothers and sisters in Ethiopia by transferring money, so I came here because buying tickets is very expensive,” said Ali Jamal, 26, who has been working in Qatar for five years.
A nurse from Nepal, one of the few women who watched the match, said she would not be able to watch any more matches due to her long shifts at the hospital.
Mohammed Ansar, a 28-year-old Indian who has been working in Qatar since earlier this year, said he has volunteered with FIFA for two of the upcoming matches, so he will be watching them from the pitch.
On Sunday, however, he was grateful to be with his fellow workers who were watching the game on a screen, despite the disappointment that Qatar’s loss was.
“Having this free stadium means they also think of the poor,” he said.