Qatar’s bid to host the World Cup finals is just another indication of the growing power within the game of the Middle East
Qatar may seem an unlikely country to harbour the ambition of hosting the World Cup finals in 2022, and outsiders will have a caricatured view of the Gulf state as being just Doha and desert. But the Middle East is beginning to make its presence felt in the world game.
Asian confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam no less, Sepp Blatter’s most powerful backer in the 1998 FIFA presidential election, comes from Qatar, and the Club World Cup in December this year and next will be staged not so far off, in Abu Dhabi.
Hassan Al Thawadi – Qatar’s bid chief executive whose student days in England taught him the no less esoteric ways of life in Scunthorpe – is pulling all the levers available to breathe life into the project.
“Qataris love football and the idea of bringing the World Cup here one day has always been our dream,” he says. “We have evaluated our strengths and our weaknesses and we feel very, very prepared. That goes for everyone: from His Highness the Emir, to the government, to the public.”
Qatar does have world tournament experience, having taken on – successfully, at short notice – the hosting of the 1995 World Youth Cup.
“We have seen progress in leaps and bounds over the last 10 years in so many different areas,” says
Al Thawadi. “We are pioneers and among world leaders in the fields of oil and gas, infrastructure, building, everything. It’s all given us the self-belief about being able to provide a unique experience for the World Cup – unique both for ourselves and for the Middle East.
“The region is a perfect place for the hosts for 2022. FIFA took a brave step in taking the World Cup out to South Africa next year. Now it has an opportunity to maintain that visionary work by making a great statement, a historic decision, to come to the Middle East.”
Qatar, says Al Thawadi, has the capacity to build all the necessary stadia and it has the technology to lower the air temperature around players and fans both in the grounds and in the fan zones.
Here, for long-serving World Cup bid watchers, comes the most innovative concept of all: Qatar is proposing “the compact World Cup”. Every fan, if he or she wishes, will be able to travel from their hotel to any match of any team and return in the same day.
That is probably a boast no other country has been able to make since Jules Rimet scratched around to find 12 nations to go to Uruguay for the inaugural World Cup 79 years ago, in Montevideo, in 1930.
Back to the future then, with FIFA and the 2022 World Cup?
It’s an intriguing idea.