Qatar preparing for the World Cup
Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmad Al ThaniThis has already been an incredible World Cup. We have seen wonderful individual performances, great games, major upsets – and both jubilation and disappointments for supporters. But whether it is Spain’s early exit or England’s defeats, there are good football reasons to explain such results. And despite all you may have heard over the last few weeks, there are also good and legitimate reasons why Qatar beat better known rivals to host the tournament in eight years’ time. It is just that we have struggled to get a hearing.
Qatar does not have a rich football history. We are a small country. Temperatures are high in the summer. However, unfairly, our wealth alone fuels suspicions. But our bid succeeded not because these big questions were ignored, but because we provided compelling answers. We turned each challenge to our advantage. We won because our bid was seen as the best.
Qatar’s football history may be much younger than in Europe or South America, but the passion for the game here and across the Middle East is every bit as intense. FIFA members understood this and were keen to take the tournament to a new region.
The finals in the U.S. in 1994, in Japan and South Korea in 2002 and South Africa in 2010 helped build football’s global popularity. This is the chance to take the tournament to the many millions of football fans in the Middle East.
FIFA members were reassured, too, by our success in staging other major sporting events, such as the 2006 Asian Games, the 2011 Pan-Arab games and the 2011 Asia Cup. Qatar’s compact size gave these events a very different feel, another positive for FIFA members. We spoke of a World Cup where teams and fans won’t have to fly huge distances between venues, unlike in Brazil, or in Russia in four years’ time. They recognized as well that Qatar is a stable and peaceful society with one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
We faced, of course, strong rival bids. But both the U.S., and Japan and South Korea have hosted recent World Cups. Australia has a very strong sporting tradition, but football is not its number one sport. A finals staged there would also involve long journeys and considerable cost. In contrast, over two billion football fans are within a four-hour flight of Doha’s new airport.
The heat of our summer is seen by some critics as the main reason why we could not possibly have won fair and square. But we showed how matches could be played and watched in comfortable conditions. Playing the tournament in winter was not part of our bid. It might seem to some that air-conditioned stadiums are flights of fancy, but we have had cooling systems for outdoor events since 2008.
We have invested in research and development to find how cooling could be powered by solar and renewable technologies, which we promised FIFA we would share with other countries.
I accept that we spent more money campaigning than other bids, but this was solely to catch up with our better known rivals. We had to tell people about our country and what we could offer, to overcome the perceived obstacles. But from the day we launched our bid, to the day our country’s name was pulled from the envelope in Zurich, we have played strictly by the rules. It is why we are happy to cooperate fully with the FIFA inquiry into the bidding process. We have nothing to hide or fear.
This has not stopped a barrage of increasingly wild accusations. Interpol, for instance, completely dismissed the Sunday Times’ claim that it had called for a criminal investigation into the 2022 decision.
We set out to FIFA how we wanted the World Cup to be a catalyst for positive change in our region. We have been as good as our word and have already taken steps, for instance, to modernize our labor laws. We also stressed our strong belief that staging the finals in the Middle East would improve understanding within and beyond the region.
As we have seen in Brazil, the World Cup has a remarkable ability to bring people and cultures together. There are fans from all over the world forming new friendships. They will return home with their eyes and minds more open.
There are sadly plenty of divisions and misunderstandings in our world, but the shared passion for football can shake prejudices and unite people around what they have in common. This message – which has never been more important – was at the heart of our bid. It is also why we look forward to welcoming the world to our country in 2022: it will be an amazing event.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmad Al Thani is President of the Qatar Football Association