LUSAIL, Qatar - Organisers of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar said on Thursday that a lot of the criticism of the host nation has been "unfair" and "not based on factual reality".
Speaking at a press conference at the Lusail Stadium - where the World Cup final will be played on Dec 18 - World Cup 2022 chief executive officer Nasser Al Khater said: "Qatar has been faced with a lot of criticism from the very beginning.
"We always maintain that people who have not visited Qatar will have a different perception from when they do... Everyone is free to make their own perceptions, this is human nature.
"However, we think that lot of the criticism has been unfair, a lot of it has been not based on factual reality. Whatever we thought was fair criticism, we've taken on board... which has led to significant changes that Qatar is proud of today."
He was responding to a question about how the lead-up to the Nov 20-Dec 18 World Cup has been presented by certain quarters in the Western media. Some outlets have raised issues ranging from human rights to the nation's ban on public consumption of alcohol.
The latter was a hot topic at the press conference hosted by the Qatar 2022 panel, which included Qatar Supreme Committee director general Yasir Al Jamal and safety and security operations committee executive director Jassim Al Sayid.
Calling it a "misconception", Al Khater said: "We've always stated that the sale of alcohol is available here in Qatar, and we've also said that during the World Cup we will make it available in specific zones for the fans."
He added that the organisers were working out specifics with Fifa in a process that is "no different than any other World Cup". The BBC had reported on Wednesday that Al Khater had promised that alcohol would be served "in select areas of the stadium" and that organisers were still "finalising our alcohol strategy".
The panel, which convened to give an update on the "fan journey", said it was determined to produce a memorable experience for all those who will be arriving for football's showpiece event.
On Thursday, Fifa also announced a "reimagined" Fan Festival, dubbed as a "multidimensional, inclusive event" to allow fans to experience games in a festival environment.
Located at Al Bidda in Doha with the West Bay skyline as a backdrop, the 40,000-capacity fan zone will feature live broadcasts of every match on giant screens, concerts, a food court offering local and international cuisine, and interactive gaming stations.
Alcohol will be available for sale only after 6.30pm there, with Al Khater stating that they wanted to make the zone alcohol-free for families and children in the earlier parts of the day.
In a media statement, Fifa president Gianni Infantino said: "The Fifa Fan Festival provides an incredible opportunity for fans to come together beyond the stadiums and the on-pitch action and experience football in new and unique ways."
Qatar has a population of just under three million and up to 1.2 million visitors will be in attendance during the World Cup, with organisers on Thursday saying demand for tickets was highest from Argentina, United States, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.
Al Jamal said that the organisers have made arrangements with consulates and embassies of all 32 participating nations at the World Cup to be available "round the clock" to provide assistance to travellers and make the experience as smooth as possible.
Added Al Khater: "We believe the World Cup will be a unique experience for all (visitors). The weather, the fact it's in pretty much in one city where everyone will be together... What we want people to feel once they go back is that it was an amazing World Cup."