x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Historic moment for Gulf as Qatar gets 2022 World Cup

Historic decision to bring tournament to the Middle East for the first time with Russia to be host in 2018 as Fifa disappoints the US and England.

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, left, and Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president hold the World Cup trophy after Qatar were announced as the hosts for the 2022 World Cup.
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, left, and Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president hold the World Cup trophy after Qatar were announced as the hosts for the 2022 World Cup.

ZURICH // On their day of unbridled joy, the message from Qatar's jubilant bid team was clear. In handing the task of hosting the 2022 World Cup to a small Gulf state which had never even reached the final stages of the competition, Fifa had taken a bold step to expand the game of football.

When the decision was announced in a ceremony of high tension in Zurich yesterday, some media elements treated Qatar's success as a major shock.

Yet the signs had been growing that the bid was rather special.

In her eloquent final appeal, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, the wife of Qatar's ruler, had said: "From Doha to Damascus, the hope for a generation of youth will be shown not to be an elusive dream. The time is now."

As Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, in that infuriatingly slow way of his, pulled the name of the 2022 host from the envelope, the dream proved not to be elusive at all.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani, the Qatar bid chief, told the Fifa executive: "Thank you for backing us and expanding the game. You will be proud of us and you will be proud of the Middle East."

How odd it had seemed that in this chilly Swiss city, hot weather should be such a dominant feature of debate on whether Fifa could put its faith in the first Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern nation to organise a World Cup.

On the eve of voting on the venues of both the 2018 and 2022 events, snow ploughs had battled to keep streets and tramlines clear. Even beneath yesterday's blue skies, it was unmistakably winter as delegations, officials and more than 1,000 journalists and television teams gathered in the Zurich Exhibition Centre.

By common consent, Qatar's bid team had dealt impressively with the issue of climate, stressing the state-of-the-art technology that would keep temperatures at a comfortable 27°C at stadiums, training sites and supporters' areas.

The promise to dismantle stadiums after the event and re-erect them in developing countries was a smart, charitable payoff line. And a pivotal figure of world football, Zinedine Zidane, a World Cup winner with France but fiercely proud of his Algerian roots, had given Qatar an eminent ambassador.

The night before that campaign ended in triumph, the catchy chorus of a half-forgotten pop music hit, Kids of America, could be heard from a building close to the plush Baur Du Lac, hotel of choice for many involved in the bidding, including Qataris.

The song, with its English provenance but transatlantic theme, may have struck a pertinent note. England wanted 2018. The United States had eyes on 2022.

But the prizes went to new kids on the World Cup block, Russia and Qatar.

England's much-praised final presentation was not enough. The "motherland of football", as Blatter put it, will probably have to wait until at least 2030 to host its first World Cup since the tournament-winning glories of 1966.

And perhaps the fair-minded view of the US bid for 2022 was that it was little too soon after 1994, when the country last hosted the event.

The time, as Sheikha Mozah had urged, had come for somewhere else to show the world what it could do.

crandall@thenational.ae