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World Cup embassies brace for criminal charges, lost passports

Qatari authorities on Sunday opened a World Cup consular facility that could be in hot demand where fans who lose their passport or get arrested can seek help.

More than 40 countries — the 31 teams playing alongside Qatar plus more than 10 other football loving nations — will have offices in the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre alongside the police, interior ministry and other key bodies, authorities said.

The centre will be the first of its kind at a major sporting event, and many ambassadors are hoping it will not be needed by the one million-plus fans due in the Gulf state from November 20.

But Qatar’s restrictions on alcohol sales, the criminalisation of homosexuality and even its attitude to fans who take off their shirts to celebrate a victory has worried some supporters’ groups and made diplomats nervous.

Mexico is expecting more than 70,000 fans and will have “an important number” of diplomats on duty during the 29 day tournament, said ambassador Guillermo Ordorica Robles.

Mexico will play Latin American arch-rivals Argentina, who will also have tens of thousands of fans, on November 22.

But Ordorica told AFP he had “no concerns” heading into the tournament.

“I am sure that our fans have enough information about the rules of the country. We are a respectful country and I am sure they will respect all those guidelines,” he said.

World Cup organising committee chief Hassan al-Thawadi told AFP the centre would provide “very quick, very seamless support for all the fans that are coming”.

He also reaffirmed assurances over the application of Qatari laws.

“A lot of people come and go with a lot of concerns and a lot of fears without really having engaged,” he said.

“Whether it is people here not engaging with the outside world in the right way, or the outside world not engaging with people here in the right way. This is a celebration and … I believe we will come to celebrate our common humanity while at the same time respecting our differences.”

In one of the most politically-charged games on November 29, the Islamic republic of Iran will play the United States.

Iran’s ambassador Hamidreza Dehghani Poudeh said more than 30,000 Iranians may be in Qatar.

Thousands of Saudi fans are also expected to pour across the border into Qatar, said Saudi ambassador Prince Mansour bin Khaled bin Farhan al-Saud.

“Both sides are now well prepared to receive the fans,” he said.

With widespread congestion feared in Doha, where all eight stadiums are within 40 kilometres (25 miles) of the city centre, Qatar wants Saudi fans to leave their cars at the frontier and take buses into the capital.

They will have to pay a $1,200 fee to bring their own car.

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