India has become a huge football market, thanks to ISL: Qatar 2022 CEO Al-Khater

With Qatar expecting close to 1.5 million people during the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a number of plans are being put in place with respect to accommodation and fan zones.

Al-Khater, also the Assistant Secretary General, Tournament Operations with the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, is confident the West Asian nation will see a massive influx from India during the FIFA World Cup next year.   -  SANTADEEP DEY

Qatar 2022 CEO Nasser Al-Khater on Thursday said Indian sports aficionados are slowly looking beyond cricket and have developed an interest in football, thanks to the Indian Super League (ISL). 

"India has become a huge football market with the coming of the [Indian] Super League. They were a lot more interested in cricket but there is a growing liking for football now," Al-Khater told select media.

Al-Khater, also the Assistant Secretary General, Tournament Operations with the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, is confident the West Asian nation will see a massive influx from India during the FIFA World Cup next year.

"It is hard to put a number on how many people will come to the World Cup from India. But having attended the U-17 World Cup in 2017 and seen the popularity of football among people there, I can assure you the interest will be huge," he said.

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Qatar -- since it secured hosting rights for the quadrennial showpiece on December 2, 2010 -- has drawn flak from multiple media organisations and human rights groups, for the country's limited football history, expenditure, local climate, criminalisation of homosexuality and labour laws.

However, Al-Khater feels the nation has often been treated unfairly. He said, "Yes (I feel Qatar has been an easy target sometimes). Being the first World Cup in the Middle East, it was easy to complain about it being too small a country, lacking football history. But we also see the advantages of holding a WC in a small country like ours. The fact that they say Qatar doesn't have a footballing history, it is not true.

"However, we do need to answer these questions, because it our duty and job to clarify misconceptions. It's also important for us to admit that there is a lot of work to be done in certain areas and at the same time make sure what is reflected by the media is factually correct."

Qatar is yet to make up its mind regarding plans of permitting entry to footballers who have refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

"We are working closely with FIFA and monitoring the situation around the world when it comes to COVID. We have seen with time there is a lot more comfort with travellers who are vaccinated. Vaccination programs around the world are moving a lot faster. A lot more vaccines are getting approved as well. However, there is no definitive answer as of now. We have to see what the world will be like a year from now," he added.

With Qatar expecting close to 1.5 million people during the tournament, a number of plans are being put in place with respect to accommodation and fan zones.

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"You will feel the energy of the fans more during the World Cup here as they will all be concentrated in one place. As for accommodation, we have been doing a lot of research and modelling to see how many rooms are expected based on the number of fans we are expecting on a daily basis. Based on that, we will have a variety of accommodation options."

"We will have hotels and real estates like service apartments to cater to different needs. We will also have floating hotels in cruise ships. There are plans of desert camps... we have been speaking about it for a long time. Fans will love these experiences," Al-Khater said.

(The writer is in Qatar at the invitation of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy)

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