When Fifa President Sepp Blatter announced that Qatar will be the host nation of the 2022 World Cup in Zurich two years ago, the footballing world had to pick up its proverbial jaw off the floor.
As the incredulity has subsided over the past 24 months and the realisation has set in that Qatar will host the first World Cup in the Middle East, it has dawned on many that the Qatar 2022 tournament will be the most important event in Fifa’s illustrious history.
Hosting the World Cup is a great investment for
any country. It encourages major development
in sports infrastructure and facilities and will bump Qatar up in world rankings.
The global football spectacle will either be a shining vindication of Fifa’s long-proclaimed ambition, driven by its president, to take football to all corners of the earth: an example of the unparalleled capacity sport has to unite every creed and culture.
“The decision to bring the Fifa World Cup to new territory in 2022 is in line with [our] goal of projecting football globally,” a spokesperson of Fifa, the International Federation of Association Football, tells GN Focus.
“In football, there are no boundaries and a Fifa World Cup in the Middle East offers great opportunity for the region to discover football’s power as a platform for positive social and cultural development.”
On the other hand, the event could be an own goal of far-reaching ignominious consequences. If there proves to be substantial credence to the protracted claims of corruption that have enshrouded the Qatar bid since the 2010 announcement, it will be a potentially fatal hammer blow to the reputation of the game’s highest authority, which has a blazing history of causing discontent wherever it treads.
Just last month Fifa announced that Michael Garcia, the newly appointed chief investigator of the organisation’s Ethics Committee, will probe fresh accusations of bribery involving Qatar’s successful World Cup bid, which originally surfaced as a result of an article published by the Sunday Times.
The UK newspaper alleged that Qatar, which vastly outspent its rivals (including the US, Australia and South Korea) in its quest to host the tournament, held discussions regarding a $1 million (Dh3.67 million) sponsorship deal for a gala dinner organised by the son of a Fifa executive committee member, who was later banned from football for three years.
In a statement emailed to GN Focus, the Qatar World Cup Supreme Committee says: “We refute absolutely the allegations published by the Sunday Times. The article is presented in a manner that suggests an ‘offer’ was made to a certain individual by the Qatar 2022 Bid Committee.
“The truth is that our Bid Committee, after careful consideration, opted not to sign any agreement with the individual concerned and had no part whatsoever in the African Legends Dinner event, financially or otherwise.
“The Qatar 2022 Bid Committee operated to the highest standards of integrity during the bidding process for the 2018/2022 Fifa World Cups, strictly adhering to all FIFA rules and regulations for bidding nations.”
The Fifa spokesperson tells GN Focus it acted on the accusations immediately, saying it is now a matter “for Michael Garcia to analyse the documents and decide on any potential next steps”.
Blatter declared last year that a “rerun” of the 2022 bid could not be ruled out. Should Qatar be stripped of the right to host the World Cup, it would be the biggest and most shocking event in the football governing body’s history. Such allegations are the most recent in a series of challenges confronting Fifa and the Supreme Committee as they embark on ambitious plans to showcase the World Cup in ten years.
In line with World Cup tradition, the tournament will be played in the summer. A major concern raised by footballing bodies, fans and players is the scorching heat of the desert nation and the potentially negative impact it will yield on the standard of football.
Nasser Al Khater, Director of Communications and Marketing, Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, tells GN Focus the weather was taken into consideration prior to the bid. “In our bid proposal we assured Fifa and the international football community that we were capable of hosting a cool and comfortable Fifa World Cup.
“As part of our bid concept, we took [existing cooling technology] to the next level, building a prototype stadium on the outskirts of Doha that utilises solar power to produce air-cooling.”
Temperatures in the Gulf state reach up to 50 degrees Celsius, with humidity over 80 per cent. Such a dramatic change in climate is a sizeable obstacle for professionals who typically ply their trade in Europe.
“For Fifa, the health of the players is of utmost importance,” says a spokesperson. “But the 2022 Committee has presented during the bidding process a sophisticated plan to ensure best conditions for the participating teams. These plans are closely monitored by Fifa.”
Al Khater isn’t worried about the climate affecting players. “We are not concerned about this due to the technological solutions,” he says.
“To give an extreme example, Qatar’s national team played Vietnam in a Fifa World Cup 2014 pre-qualifier in July 2011 at Al Sadd Stadium. The temperature outside was approximately 43 degrees Celsius, while the temperature inside the stadium was a comfortable 24 degrees Celsius.”
Qatar’s summer heat poses such a potential problem that noises have been made by Michel Platini, President of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), Fifa’s European arm, and others that a winter World Cup should be encouraged.
Platini said earlier a winter event would be better for the fans as well. Should the games be staged in winter, it would be the first time the World Cup breaks with tradition.
However, Fifa says no such approach has been considered. “The event periods stipulated for the 2022 Fifa World Cup [are] based on the traditional international match calendar. As it stands, the 2022 Fifa World Cup is planned to be staged in Qatar in June or July.
“Any potential change would have to be first requested by the competition organisers, i.e. Qatar, and then presented to the Fifa Executive Committee for analysis. So far, there has been no such request coming from Qatar,” the Fifa spokesperson says.
In terms of footballing infrastructure, none of the stadiums are yet complete and Lusail — the city that will host the World Cup final — is still being built. And although contracts to develop the state-of-the-art football stadiums outlined by the Qatar Supreme Committee as integral to its plans to host the competition are not yet awarded, Al Khater says important work is already underway. “We are now in the process of engaging in constant research and development to ensure that the cooling solutions we utilise are sustainable and provide benefits to the nation and region beyond 2022,” he says.
The level of investment being ploughed into getting Qatar ready for 2022 is unprecedented. “Our estimate during the bid for infrastructure related to stadiums was between $4 billion and $5 billion,” Al Khater says.
Asked about the return on investment (ROI) the Supreme Committee expects to generate from hosting the World Cup, Al Khater says it’s not just about monetary reward. “Hosting the 2022 Fifa World Cup is not an issue of ROI for Qatar and the region. The benefits of hosting this event extend far beyond simple calculations. Mega events such as the Fifa World Cup must be viewed through the lens of legacy in the longer term,” he says.
Legacy is a vital issue for any modern sporting event. Mohammad Ganem Al Ali, Director of Football at Al Sadd Sports Club, one of Qatar’s most successful domestic football teams, says “2022 represents a revolution in football for Qatar and the Middle East”.
He says the World Cup is a wise investment for Qatar that will undoubtedly put the country on the sporting map and galvanise the nation’s footballing ambitions.
“Hosting the World Cup is a great investment for any country. It encourages major development in sports infrastructure and facilities and will bump Qatar up in world rankings,” says Al Ali.
As per Fifa’s World Cup regulations, the host country is granted automatic qualification. The standard of the Qatar national team and whether they deserve to play in the tournament is another hotly debated topic. Qatar is currently ranked 113th in the world and has never played in a World Cup.
But leading Qatar football academy Aspire says 2022 will inspire the 1.6 million-strong nation to produce footballers that will do the country proud come 2022.
“Becoming the hosting nation of the 2022 World Cup has energised the whole Qatar football family, from kids playing in schools to professional players in the Qatar Stars League,” Ivan Bravo, Director of Aspire Academy, tells GN Focus.
Aspire’s grass-roots schemes are a source of supply for the Qatar national team and they will be under pressure to produce a talented crop.
In January, Bayern Munich and Schalke — two of Germany’s most successful domestic and European clubs — are holding winter training camps at Aspire, which represents another initiative to expose young, up-and-coming Qatari footballers to international talent prior to the advent of the World Cup in 2022.
“What has become more [pronounced] is the drive, focus and expectation we impose on ourselves,” says Bravo, “so that the talent coming out of Aspire will be increasingly better in order to feed players to the national team who are better prepared to compete with the world’s best.
“The legacy will leave a lasting effect in multiple ways for younger generations, who will benefit from the exposure to the world’s best [footballers] before, during and after the World Cup,” adds Bravo.
An estimation of Qatar’s investments in stadiums