DOHA: Shafeeq Saqafi paid three dollars for the Argentina shirt he proudly wore when sat with 15,000 other migrant workers in a hidden corner of Doha to watch Lionel Messi’s side salvage their World Cup.
Messi’s goal in the 2-0 win over Mexico brought the biggest crowd seen at the Asian Town stadium to their feet and Saqafi beat his chest in delight.
Saqafi and his friends bristle at European media suggestions that they are “fake fans” but readily acknowledge that they buy counterfeit team shirts for US$3 or less, instead of the US$90 cost of official kit.
“I could not afford to have the letters printed on the back, but the shirt was something I really wanted,” said the 32-year-old hotel worker who earns just over US$400 a month and sends more than half of that back to his family in Bangladesh.
Saqafi is one of the 2.5 million foreign workers who have been the foundation of Qatar’s economic miracle – helping pump oil and gas, building its World Cup stadiums and infrastructure and staffing the dozens of new hotels that have opened in the past five years.
Rights groups say the workers have been massively abused. Qatar points out in reply to increased safety standards and salary protections in factories and at outdoor work sites, and reduced working hours in Qatar’s notoriously hot summer.
The stadium, in the Asian Town shopping complex on the outskirts of Doha, has become a daily draw for thousands of the poorest workers who live in nearby dormitories away from Doha’s glitzy shopping malls and restaurants.
A woman DJ entertains the overwhelmingly male and South Asian crowd before each match with Hindi pop songs and Bollywood videos.
For most, the fan zone on the cricket pitch is the nearest they will get to the World Cup. The legal minimum wage is 1,000 Qatari riyal (US$100) and there are still many earning that.
A few thousand 40 Qatari riyal (US$10) World Cup tickets were put on sale and quickly snapped up.
Buying an official team shirt is also out of the question. So Saqafi and many of his friends bought one of the high quality fakes on sale in backstreet stores.
Yaseen Gul, who has worked for a Doha electrical firm for a decade, said he comes to the stadium “to enjoy myself – cheaply.”
“Qatar is very hard, the work is hard,” he said. “But my salary has improved and I will not go home.”
Shaqeel Mahmoud said he could not afford to buy match tickets and he had to leave the Argentina game before the end because he had to go work.
A cup of tea at the stadium beverage stand costs one dollar, but many fans said this was also too much.
“There is no pressure to buy anything so I am grateful for that,” said Bangadeshi Shaqeel.