Economic blockade no hindrance to Qatar’s World Cup preparations

Nasser Al Khater has also said Qatar will try to balance the country’s traditions, rooted in Islam, as well as FIFA’s sponsor rights that may include making alcohol available in the premise.

Nasser Al Khater, Assistant Secretary General, Tournament Affairs, at the Supreme Committee for Delivery And Legacy (SC), says Qatar bid for a 32-team competition and is unsure if there are enough FIFA-compliant stadiums to host a 48-team tournament in 2022.   -  Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya

This week, Qatar started the countdown to the FIFA World Cup 2022 by launching the Lusail stadium design that will host the inaugural and the final match of the grand event.

Despite the glamorous presentation, dawaat and revelries in presence of the emir, the blockade — a trade and travel embargo on the Arab nation by neighbours Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain for the peninsula’s alleged support to terrorism — remains a talking point.

READ: Lusail Stadium, 2022 Qatar World Cup's grand theatre 

To ensure a trouble-free World Cup — a first of its kind in West Asia — Qatar has been wrestling to solve the Gulf crisis. It changed air routes, ports for shipping and importing, and also bought 4,000 cows from Europe and America to start a homegrown dairy farm; and not depend on Saudi Arabia for milk.

These undercurrents do not directly pose a threat to the World Cup but Gianni Infantino’s proposal for a 48-team tournament could divide the matches among the neighbouring countries. Is Qatar ready to share at such a vulnerable hour?

“People know the passion of football in Iran, they have played the World Cup. This part of the world suffers from misconceptions. This is an opportunity for us to show the world our passion for football and introduce the world to our culture and traditions. We (Iran and Qatar) have similar traditions.”

Nasser Al Khater, Assistant Secretary General, Tournament Affairs, at the Supreme Committee for Delivery And Legacy (SC) is awaiting the completion of the FIFA feasibility study. “They are in the consultation process. We don’t know the schedule; don’t know the number of days (in case of 48 nations) it may require. Don’t know if there are enough FIFA-compliant stadiums. But Qatar had won rights for a 32-team tournament. It is a question of decision-making and votes.

“Right now, with four years to go, we have to see what it means to everybody after dialogues,” said Nasser, leaning subtly towards Iran.

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“People know the passion of football in Iran, they have played the World Cup. This part of the world suffers from misconceptions. This is an opportunity for us to show the world our passion for football and introduce the world to our culture and traditions. We (Iran and Qatar) have similar traditions,” he added.

FIFA is undertaking a study that will monitor scheduling, number of venues, number of training sites, number of games a day, broadcast and operations.

Budget not affected

The blockade, however, hasn’t affected the FIFA World Cup budget and timelines of delivery (of raw materials). “We have not been impacted. Whatever the blockade was supposed to achieve, it has failed.”

READ| Four years to Qatar WC: Gulf nation getting ready

The sustainability and recycle drive may have helped bring it down. The overall estimate of the World Cup infrastructure, including training sites, is six to eight billion.

Alcohol and branding

In a lot of countries, beer is an integral part of football culture. “Qatar has its traditions rooted in Islam, but it is hospitable, open to the world and very cosmopolitan. Alcohol is available in the country due to the cosmopolitan nature. It is not as readily available as in other countries, but it is still available.

“During the tournament, there will be designated areas where it will be available. We know that FIFA sponsor rights have to be respected. We need to sit down and discuss with FIFA to find a common ground,” said Nasser, adding, “Qatar has been suffering from negative conceptions since the time of bidding. One negative misconception that 1,000 people are dying while making the stadiums is absolutely false.”

In the past, the SC had consulted officials in Japan — the host in 2002 along with South Korea — to understand the workflow behind hosting a World Cup.

Now it plans to have discussions with the Pyeongchang Olympics authorities for a second opinion on their preparation and progress so far.

(The writer is in Qatar on an invitation by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy)

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