According to a source and documents seen by Reuters, Qatar has called up hundreds of civilians, including ambassadors summoned back from abroad, for mandatory military service staffing security checkpoints at World Cup stadiums.
Conscript deployment highlights the logistical challenge faced by the tiny Gulf Arab state hosting one of the biggest sporting events. Some of these conscripts would typically choose to forego mandatory military service because their work is regarded as essential.
The conscripts are training to manage stadium security queues, frisk fans and detect contraband like alcohol, drugs or weapons concealed in ponytails, jacket linings or even false bellies, according to training materials seen by Reuters.
Qatar has a population of 2.8 million – of which barely 380,000 are Qatari nationals – and expects an unprecedented influx of 1.2 million visitors for the tournament. It already has an agreement with Turkey which is supplying 3,000 riot police.
Less than three months before the start of the 29-day tournament, the civilians were given the order to report for pre-dawn duty at the national service camp north of the Qatari capital Doha in early September, according to order papers viewed by Reuters.
According to the source, the civilians were informed that they had been called up to help with the World Cup and that it was their ‘patriotic duty’ to do so. According to the insider, ‘the majority of individuals are there because they have to be because they don’t want to get in trouble.’
According to a source with firsthand knowledge of the strategy and the training, some volunteers are also undergoing training concurrently with the conscripted troops.
When contacted for clarification, a representative of the Qatari government issued a statement confirming that the country’s national service programme would run as usual throughout the World Cup.
As they do every year during significant public events like the National Day celebrations, recruits will offer additional support during the tournament as part of the normal programme, the statement continued.