x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Qatar ready to ‘carry on regardless’ with Fifa World Cup 2022 plans

Despite criticism, the gas-rich Gulf state unveils first of six new stadium plans for World Cup 2022 as construction of cooling technology will commence, writes Gary Meenaghan.

An artist’s illustration of the 45,000-capacity stadium that will be constructed in Al Wakrah, Qatar. Getty Images
An artist’s illustration of the 45,000-capacity stadium that will be constructed in Al Wakrah, Qatar. Getty Images

The 2022 World Cup is still almost a decade away, but it has rarely faded from the headlines since December 2, 2010, the day Qatar won the right to bring football’s biggest event to the Middle East.

Several issues have attached themselves to the ground-breaking tournament since that afternoon, particularly regarding the timing of the event, the compact size of the country and the status of migrant workers there.

On Saturday, the gas-rich Gulf state revealed the concept for the first of six World Cup arenas already in the latter stages of the design process. Early work on the Al Wakrah Stadium will start in January and Nasser Al Khater, a member of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, is confident planning is on track and unaffected by the wider issues at play.

No issue has proved more persistent than the topic of when the event will be held. Qatar’s winning bid was built around a traditional summer tournament played in air-conditioned stadiums. Al Wakrah is designed to meet this brief, yet Fifa, the sport’s governing body, has in recent months appeared to be leaning towards moving the World Cup to a cooler part of the year, perhaps November and December.

Such an unprecedented switch would require massive rescheduling at a domestic level — particularly across Europe — and has proved the source of much controversy.

“Yes, there is criticism, but I also think that if you keep an open mind it allows you to see things differently,” Al Khater said by phone from Doha.

“If you look at maintaining the tournament in the summer, that means you are excluding a lot of countries from hosting a major event like the World Cup. That is why we came up with our cooling technology, which we are going to go ahead with regardless. It allows other countries to explore cooling technology also.”

The concept of other neighbouring nations benefiting from Qatar’s hosting of the month-long tournament is a theme Al Khater often returns to. In terms of sharing games around the region, Yousuf Al Serkal, the president of the UAE Football Association, earlier this year called the notion “a crazy idea”.

Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, was quoted in Abu Dhabi as saying the UAE and Iran were keen to host matches, but the Swiss has since clarified his remarks and said that only the host nation will stage games.

Al Khater said he hoped neighbouring countries will benefit through tourism.

“We have always maintained that this is not a Qatar World Cup, but rather a Middle East World Cup,” he said.

“It will provide a celebration of the Middle Eastern culture and will feature the involvement of countries around the region. We would like to think the fans will see Qatar as a place where they can come and watch football and then take a few days off and visit Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Bahrain …

“If you look at some of the countries that have or will host World Cups — South Africa, Brazil, Russia — these are vast countries that can require three-four hours’ travel time” between host cities.

“If you put that into context, you could even go as far as to visit Beirut from this part of the world. So it will be quite easy for fans to visit the neighbouring countries and get a feel for the Middle East.”

It is a similar story when it comes to Qatar itself, Al Khater said. With 12 World Cup stadiums fitted within 11,500 kilometres square, many of the problems currently facing fans planning trips to Brazil next summer will be irrelevant in Qatar. Commuting between venues next year is practically not an option and the distance between Brazil’s southernmost and northernmost host cities is more than 3,000km.

In Qatar, it could hardly be more in contrast. Al Wakrah Stadium is the country’s southernmost venue, yet is just 15km south of Doha.

“Whether you are a fan or an official or a player, you can stay in the same hotel for the entire duration of the tournament,” Al Khater said. “It takes out the logistical headache and lets you focus your time more. Also, the travel time from venue to venue means you can watch more than one football match in a day, which is unheard of. If you are a real addict, you could even watch as many as three.”

This unveiling of the Al Wakrah Stadium concept is the strongest indicator yet that while the wider issues remain, the work is in progress.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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