In making Qatar the new destination of World football, the little peninsular nation in the Persian Gulf has used its economic might to bring about a radical transformation in its outlook and identity.
From being an immensely rich nation with its huge petroleum resource wealth, Qatar has used its affluence in bringing up its sports infrastructure to a magnitude that very few countries can match. This is certainly going to alter the way it is often perceived by the rest of the world.
The FIFA World Cup, which is barely a couple of months away, will bear testimony to this notable metamorphosis as more than a million fans from across the globe converge to experience “La Eeb,” the cherubic mascot that means a super-skilled player in Arabic.
The dress rehearsal of the biggest event of world football happened recently in the form of the Lusail Super Cup which provided a prelude to what the global fans are going to experience between November 20 and December 18, when the FIFA World Cup will be played out.
The Super Cup was a one-off match between the top teams of Saudi Arabia and Egypt – Al Hilal SFC and Zamalek SC – that in reality put to test many aspects related to the successful organisation of the upcoming matches in the World Cup.
The Lusail Stadium, which will host the maximum number of matches (10) including the final, was the chosen venue and proved its merit with its most modern and impressive facilities.
As far as the design goes, the Stadium, which can accommodate 80,000 spectators, looks beautiful with its interplay of light and shadow characterizing the ‘fanar’ lantern. Its shape echoes the decorative motifs on bowls reminiscent of the craftsmanship of the Arab and Islamic worlds.
What makes the Lusail Stadium more attractive are its technological features. It has a roof made from PTFE that protects the venue from warm wind, keeps out dust and allows in enough light for the turf to grow while providing shade to reduce the burden on the stadium’s air conditioning. With 77,575 fans attending the Super Cup match, the air conditioning did a fine job keeping the searing heat away to make the match a pleasurable experience.
In the end, Al Hilal’s 4-1 win via tie-breaker brought a lot of cheer to the Saudi Arabian supporters who came in large numbers from across the border.
The Super Cup also tested the feasibility of the Metro network, constructed specifically to connect the World Cup venues. With almost a capacity crowd attending the venue, the Metro system worked in precision to help the thousands of fans reach their destinations after the match. The digital Hayya Card also came as a useful tool providing stadium access while also giving the fans a free ride on the Metro.
Come November the Doha administration has readied a fleet of buses, most of which are electric vehicles, to augment the transportation system.
“Qatar is ready to host a unique version of the FIFA World Cup. Fans from everywhere will be welcomed with open arms. They should expect amazing football on the pitch and incredible experiences off it. Qatar will deliver a range of entertainment to suit every taste and budget. This will be a FIFA World Cup to remember for everyone who attends and the billions tuning in across the globe,” were the words of assurance from Nasser Al Khater, CEO, FIFA World Cup Qatar.
What Nasser also meant was the plethora of attractions that include the exotic assortment of perfume, spices, dates and a wide collection of mesmerising Arabic art in the local markets (called the Souqs), water sports on the wide inviting sea, huge shopping malls catering to the world of fashion and the museums that will transport the visitor to the past heritage of this ancient peninsula.
Qatar needs to present its dynamics as a modern nation, for the success of the FIFA World Cup will certainly give it the impetus to bid for the biggest sporting spectacle on earth – the Olympics.
The writer was in Doha recently at the invitation of Qatar Tourism