A week before the Red Devils' first match in the highly controversial World Cup in Qatar, the Royal Belgian Football Association (RBFA) has decided to cancel its official fan village – planned to be set up just outside of Brussels, in Vilvoorde – amid general disinterest in the tournament this year.
While a number of fan villages were planned across Belgium, the one in Vilvoorde – called "The Desert" – was the only official one, organised by the RBFA. Still, not enough tickets were sold to make it profitable and the organisation is pulling the plug.
"As it was not possible for most fans to go to Qatar, we wanted to bring the World Cup to the fans," the association announced in a press release. "However, we sold far fewer tickets than hoped for and have to conclude that there is currently less enthusiasm for big-screen events compared to other years."
'General lack of interest'
The Belgian football federation promises to refund all fans who already bought tickets. Earlier, the 'Bar Qatar' fan zone in a NATO hall in the municipality of Weelde (Antwerp) and the 'World Cup Village' in the city of Mechelen were also cancelled due to "a general lack of interest" and "disappointing ticket sales."
Across Belgium, companies, consumers and even supermarkets are hardly focusing on the World Cup; events are cancelled, supermarkets are highlighting their end-of-year offerings instead of Red Devils merchandise and people have already started thinking about Sinterklaas and Christmas, De Tijd reports.
It seems as if Belgians' so-called "football fever" will remain completely absent this year. Experts believe this is likely due to a combination of reasons: the World Cup is taking place in winter instead of in summer, and there are a lot of doubts about how far the Red Devils can go this year.
Furthermore, Qatari organisers have faced accusations this week of having hired paid actors to play international football fans at the World Cup to try and generate excitement for the tournament.
Questions also linger over Qatar's very dubious human rights record. In recent years, thousands of migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka worked in appalling conditions on the stadiums and infrastructure that make the tournament possible in Qatar, which is notorious for its human rights abuses – especially against women and the LGBTQ community – and abusive laws to stifle critical voices.
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Last year, The Guardian reported that at least 6,500 people died in the process of constructing venues for the event.
An Amnesty International report published this year also noted that thousands of migrant workers of all ages and occupations had died in Qatar between 2010 and 2019 and that in many cases, the cause of death was never investigated.