x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Views differ on whether cup will draw big crowds

Despite the worldwide focus on the Asian Cup, there seems to be little enthusiasm visible on the streets of Doha.

DOHA // Despite the worldwide focus on the Asian Cup, there seems to be little enthusiasm visible on the streets of Doha.

"I hear that tickets for the India matches have been sold out," said Praveen Kumar, an expatriate resident of the Qatari capital. "I am sure the Indians here will go out to support their teams.

"The same will be true about the matches involving Australia. There has been good demand for their matches. About the rest, I don't know. Qatar will be well supported, but how many people will come for the other matches.

"You go for local league matches and you will not find many people in the stands. So will they come to support other national teams? I don't know."

The local football league matches do not always draw big crowds and empty stands during the Asian Cup could be an eyesore and raise questions about Qatar's sporting culture.

However, Issa Mohammed al Ishaq, the deputy director of communication and marketing for the Local Organising Committee (LOC), brushed aside those concerns.

"The country has already established itself as a sports-loving nation through various tournaments in the past," he said. "This tournament is just another value addition to Qatar and its sporting image. We have hosted the Asian Cup in 1988, so this is the second time we are hosting this tournament.

"While the Asian Cup is about to start, there is a tennis tournament taking place in the other side of town. So the sporting culture is very obvious and the 2022 bid success is something that Qatar will definitely be able to execute as they have executed all the other tournaments."

Al Ishaq also claims there is no additional pressure on the LOC after the announcement of Qatar as World Cup hosts.

"Is there a pressure? If there is any pressure, it will come from you gentlemen [the media]," he said. "I think we as the LOC, in association with the Asian Football Confederation and the Qatar Football Association, have done everything possible to make this a successful tournament.

"I think indicators are already obvious that this is going to be a very successful tournament. The president of the AFC has indicated more than once his confidence in this tournament and that the success of this tournament will be hard to emulate for future hosts."

Let the games begin then. Hopefully, Qatar will be able to silence their critics over the coming days.