The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee has rejected accusations there are fake paid football fans at the World Cup, after videos of Indian expats cheering on the England team in Doha went viral on social media.
Some greeted the clips with scepticism, although the Guardian spoke to half a dozen supporters on the ground who said they were originally from Kerala and displayed a broad knowledge of the England team and the Premier League. Other locals have been seen chanting their support for Argentina and Brazil.
In a statement the Supreme Committee said it rejected the allegations about fake fans, which they called “disappointing and unsurprising”.
“Fans from all over the world – many of whom have made Qatar their home – have contributed to the local atmosphere recently, organising fan walks and parades throughout the country, and welcoming the various national teams at their hotels,” it said in a statement.
“Numerous journalists and commentators on social media have questioned whether these are ‘real’ fans. We thoroughly reject these assertions, which are both disappointing and unsurprising.”
Hundreds of England-supporting Indian fans shouted “It’s coming home” as well as “Southgate is our super coach! Sterling is our super star! Pickford is our super keeper!” as the England team arrived at their five-star hotel on Tuesday.
One England supporter from Kerala who led the chants described suggestions that he and the others were receiving cash to be cheerleaders as “fake news”.
“None of us is getting paid,” he said. “We are diehard England fans. My favourite player was Beckham, but now it is Saka. If someone offered to pay us to support England we would turn them down. We are genuine supporters. Many of us grew up watching Beckham and Michael Owen. Our love is to this team.”
The Supreme Committee also said football fans celebrated differently based on where they were in the world.
“Qatar, and the rest of the world, is comprised of a diverse range of football fans, many of whom share emotional connections with multiple nations,” it said. “In different places around the world, fans have different traditions, different ways to celebrate, and while that may contrast with what people are used to in Europe or South America, it doesn’t mean the passion for football is any less authentic. Journalists on the ground who speak to and meet these fans are realising the reality.”
The tournament kicks off on Sunday, with Qatar facing Ecuador.