DOHA // After two years of planning and preparation, Qatar is under the World Cup microscope. A Fifa inspection team arrived yesterday on a three-day visit to examine the country's credentials to host the 2022 World Cup finals. Qatar is the first Middle East country to mount a serious bid for the tournament.
Qatar is the inspectors' final stop before Fifa selects the 2018 and 2022 hosts, on December 2. Transparency and objectivity were the watchwords on day one. "We can promise everyone that the report will be done in a very objective way," Harold Mayne-Nicholls, the head of the inspection team, said during a brief media event. Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the chairman of Qatar 2022, acknowledged concerns about the country's bid, including transportation and soaring summer temperatures. "This will be an open and honest visit and we will address all these issues and answer all the challenges head on," he said.
Assuming the 2018 cup is awarded to a European country, Qatar is competing against the USA, Australia, South Korea and Japan for 2022. It is the only bidding nation never to host a World Cup or Olympics. Still, its oil and gas reserves provide the financial muscle for an aggressive campaign; Qatar 2022 is backed by Qatari Diar, the real estate arm of Qatar's US$70 billion (Dh257bn) sovereign wealth fund.
Its $4bn bid plan involves the building of nine stadiums and the renovation of three others. Six of the new stadiums will be dismantled after the event and used to build more than 20 stadiums in developing countries. In addition, Qatar plans to spend more than $50bn on roads, real estate projects and infrastructure, including a new airport and a metro and light rail system. A key aspect of the plan is the idea of a compact tournament, as all venues will be an hour or less from Doha. Qatar's geographic location is another advantage; it is within easy reach of most likely European, African and Asian competitors and has a potential prime time television audience of 3.2 billion people, according to bid officials.
Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam, a vocal supporter of the bid, is head of the Asian Football Confederation and a member of Fifa's executive committee. Qatar 2022 has also recruited Ronald de Boer, the Dutch great, and Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona coach, as backers. "Today people see Qatar as a serious contender," Hassan al Thawadi, the bid chief executive, told reporters. "We do believe we gave ourselves a very good fighting chance to bring the World Cup for the first time to the Middle East."
Critics point to Qatar's fierce summer heat and its conservative Muslim culture. To keep stadiums and fan areas cool, bid officials have planned for solar-powered refrigeration units to keep stadiums and other facilities around 27°C, much cooler than Qatar's average high of 44°C from June to August. If still a long shot, Qatar's bid seems to have gained some momentum. Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president who was instrumental in bringing the World Cup to Africa this summer, has said the Arab world deserves to host a World Cup.
He said Qatar's successful hosting of the 2006 Asian Games proved its capability. firstname.lastname@example.org