In one of the more bizarre plot twists surrounding the 2022 FIFA World Cup, reports on Friday suggest that England and Wales fans have been signed up to a campaign by tournament organisers to ensure positive messaging about the tournament.
Effectively, a large group of England fans have been signed up as "World Cup spies", who will be tasked with spreading positive messaging on the tournament in Qatar, reporting any messaging critical of the hosts, and chanting at specific times during matches.
In return, they will receive free match tickets and accommodation in Qatar, in an absolutely wild indictment of the image of this most controversial of World Cups.
England fans hired as Qatar World Cup "spies"
The conditions in Qatar for women, LGBTQ+ people, and migrant workers have been bones of contention ever since the nation was awarded hosting rights for this World Cup in December 2010. The corruption involved in bringing the tournament to the Gulf state has only added to the negative feeling around the World Cup, with the likes of Richie Sadlier and Jamie Carragher speaking out strongly about the human rights conditions in the country in recent days.
In a report in The Times this week, news has broken of an apparent response to this criticism from the Qatari tournament organisers - and they have supposedly roped in some England fans.
The Fan Leader Programme will task those signed up to chant at specific moments during matches, as well as speak positively of their experiences travelling to Qatar to the World Cup. 40 England fans, including members of the well-known band which follows the team to major tournaments, are part of the Programme, as well as 40 Welsh fans and fans from each of the other participating countries.
They are also expected to report on any social media posts which are speaking critically of the tournament, in a frightening prospect for travelling fans who may already be understandably uncomfortable with the conditions under which this World Cup will take place.
In exchange for their participation in the Fan Leader Programme, the supporters will receive free travel to and from Qatar, free accommodation for the duration of their stay, £60 in spending money a day, and free match tickets - including to the opening game. They are expected to stay in Qatar for at least two weeks.
The Times' article also shared quotes from letters sent to participating fan groups by tournament organisers:
In celebration of the fans around the world, over the period of five minutes, fan chants from each nation will be played and you will be expected to stand up, sing the song/chant, wave your flags and represent your country.
The camera will focus on each national fan group in turn. We will share with you the chant/song selected from your country to ensure you are familiar with it. Be ready in your shirt, flags and scarves to cheer and shout.
The attempt by tournament organisers to silence criticism of the tournament, as well as directly influencing the portrayal of the fan experience on TV screens around the world, is yet another indication that all is not right with this World Cup.
The participation of England and Wales fans is an intriguing subplot. Both teams are in Group B, and will face each other in their final group game on November 29.
England kick off their campaign against Iran on November 21, with Wales facing the USA later that evening.