Tens of thousands of Mexicans heading to Qatar have been warned to leave the tequila at home as authorities seek to avoid a World Cup culture clash in the Muslim Gulf state.
Fans from the Latin American nation are expected to make up one of the largest — and most exuberant — contingents of foreign supporters.
“We like to sing, drink and dance all the time,” said superfan Hector Chavez — better known as Caramelo — who has attended 10 World Cups in his trademark sombrero.
Fun-loving Mexicans are welcome in Doha provided they respect a few rules, said the businessman, named by the emirate as a fan “ambassador.”
“It’s forbidden to bring alcohol into Qatar,” said Chavez, who will celebrate his 60th birthday in the Middle Eastern nation, where drinking in public is normally illegal.
Alcohol will be sold at special zones around the eight tournament stadiums before and after games, in a FIFA fan zone and some specially designated areas.
But the price of beer — several times more expensive than in Mexico — might be hard for the country’s fans to swallow.
Chavez has tried to anticipate any possible trouble with rival fans in the small peninsula nation, where Mexico will face Argentina, Poland and Saudi Arabia in the group stage.
“I know the representative of the Argentinian supporters. If anything happens, I can call him to calm his troops,” he said.
Mexico expects 80,000 of its citizens to visit Qatar.
They have paid between $14,000 and $20,000 each for a package including flights, accommodation and tickets to the three group-stage matches, according to the Mexican travel agents association.
“Many fans save for four years to be able to attend the World Cup,” said its president, Eduardo Paniagua Morales.
It will be the most Mexicans yet to descend on a Middle Eastern country with a different religion, language and laws, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said.
“We can’t take tequila in our luggage,” the top diplomat warned in August as he announced measures aimed at warding off trouble.
About 15 members of the National Guard, unarmed and out of uniform, will be in Qatar to act as liaisons between fans and the Qatari authorities.
A special help center will be staffed by Mexican officials to deal with any problems.
Mexicans are usually one of the largest groups of foreign supporters at World Cups — 15,000 went to South Africa in 2010, 34,000 to Brazil in 2014, and 44,000 to Russia in 2018.
Not all of them have covered themselves in glory.
“A drunken Mexican extinguished the eternal flame of the unknown soldier in France in 1998 by urinating on it,” Chavez said, calling the incident “outrageous.”
In South Africa in 2010, a Mexican was arrested for trying to put a sombrero on a statue of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.
More tragically, a Mexican man died after jumping from a cruise ship carrying supporters off the coast of Brazil in 2014.
At home, the Mexican Football Federation has sought to crack down on homophobic chanting in stadiums, fearful of the country losing its role as joint host of the 2026 World Cup.
FIFA has sanctioned Mexico 17 times for an anti-gay slur frequently shouted at opposing goalkeepers.
Despite their fervor, Mexican fans have never seen their team progress past the quarter finals — a feat achieved only at the World Cups in Mexico in 1970 and 1986.
“It’s a very devoted fan base for a team that has rarely lived up to expectations,” Mexican author Juan Villoro said.
But if there was a World Cup for supporters, “Mexico would reach the final,” he added.
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