Qatar will finally silence the Doubting Thomases when the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off at the Al Bayt Stadium on November 20. The hosts will play Ecuador in a Group A match of the 32-team championship, the richest-ever football World Cup ever, and the first in the Arab world.
The $300 billion showpiece will reflect Qatar’s relentless quest to stage the world’s most-loved singular sporting event in spite of a more than four years of economic blockade by neighbouring Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt, a crippling COVID-19 pandemic, and a pessimistic media.
Till last week, a World Cup in Qatar has been the subject of cynical consternation in the western media. Saying it was time to rise above the politics and controversies that surrounded Qatar winning the bid in 2010 to host the cup, Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp said he had little appetite to watch the World Cup. It really doesn’t matter what Klopp chooses to do, because apart from billions watching the quadrennial showpiece on television or digital platforms around the world, Doha will welcome no less than 1.5 million football fans to witness the 64 matches to be played across eight venues in the most ‘compact’ World Cup ever.
With state-of-the-art facilities, and a massive workforce managed by a well-oiled Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the 2022 FIFA World Cup will only enhance Qatar’s reputation and capability as a super host of world events. While traditional sports like falconry and camel racing remain essential to the lives of Qataris, who love to flaunt their sheikhly status and yet remember their Bedouin past, Doha has been an international sports hotspot for long.
A successful hosting of the football World Cup is expected to bolster Doha’s bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympics. Although the International Olympic Committee has shown its preference towards Brisbane, it will be difficult to overlook Doha’s candidature given the infrastructure it has created for the World Cup matches, and the biggest stakeholder of the beautiful game, the fans. Sheer statistics — close to three million tickets and a record 240,000 hospitality packages sold — reflect Qatar’s muscle as capable hosts.
Interestingly, Doha’s bid to host an Olympics was rejected twice before primarily due to the searing heat in July-August, the traditional period during which the Summer Games are staged, but that script may not hold good in future particularly with the advancement Qatari stadiums have made with its climate-control technology, and IOC’s policy to spread the games across the world. The Arab world, like several parts of Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean, have never hosted an Olympics.
Qatar’s deep pockets — it spent $6.5 billion on new football stadiums and another $36 billion on a driver-less metro system connecting five of the eight venues — have always been a massive booster, and Doha has passed every stringent test of organisation that international events demand year after year. The nation has added to its growing riches of sporting events. It hosted its maiden Formula One race, the Qatar Grand Prix, last year, and continues to be on the world tennis (Qatar Open) and athletics (Diamond League) calendar. That’s not all, Doha hosted the 2019 world track and field championships in September-October, and stages the Qatar Masters, an important leg of the European golf tour.
Qatar has hosted more than 500 international events in the past 15 years across all sports and age-groups. The sheer experience to organise events make Doha a preferred choice of international sporting bodies such as the FIFA, Olympic Council of Asia, and the Asian Football Confederation, among many others. Doha hosted the 2006 Asian Games, and will stage the 2030 edition of the continental games again.
Hosting a FIFA World Cup only enforces Qatar’s love for football. Qatar hosted the FIFA Club World Cup in 2019 and 2020, and will now host the AFC Asian Cup in 2023. Qatar’s aspiration will not end with the FIFA World Cup. While every Gulf nation now has a signature sport — the UAE, for example, is a cricket hot spot with the International Cricket Council headquartered in Dubai — Qatar, with 85 percent of its 2.93 million population being foreigners, has had a multi-sport approach. Therefore, hosting an Olympics will be high on Qatar’s priority list.
For now, all eyes will be on Qatar 2022. The richest FIFA World Cup ever — the 2014 World Cup in Brazil cost an estimated $11.5 billion, and Russia 2018 about $14 billion — promises to leave a lasting impression and vindicate that FIFA did not make a wrong decision 12 years ago.
Soumitra Bose is a senior sports journalist, and a research scholar. Twitter: @Soumitra65. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.