With fans slowly returning to the stadiums in various sports, there is a growing sense of normalcy in a world ravaged by a pandemic. Fatma Al Nuaimi, the executive director of communications of the Supreme Committee overseeing the preparations of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, feels the quadrennial event slated to be held next year will be the biggest sporting event after the pandemic. In a chat with Sportstar , Nuaimi hailed India’s long-standing relations with Qatar and how Indians contributed in the process of her country’s modernisation.
Four of the eight venues for the 2022 World Cup have already been unveiled. How’s work progressing in the other venues? Was it a challenge to stick to the timeline during the pandemic?
The stadiums are all ready and complete. Now, it is just a matter of formally inaugurating them. For example, Al Bayt is all complete and may be inaugurated next month (November). The pandemic hit the whole world and it took us time to ensure the health and safety of all those people involved in different projects. We also ensured that everyone gets equal opportunity for (COVID-19) vaccination and we can now say that the rate of the vaccination among the residents of Qatar is quite high.
There was a brief hold up in the projects related to stadiums and infrastructure development when the pandemic hit. It was the time everyone was asked to be indoors, but once the medical authorities were sure about the health and safety procedures, the projects got going and we were able to meet the completion deadlines. We were able to isolate our workers and create a bio-bubble around them and make them work in shifts with lesser number of people to maintain the physical distancing protocols.
We have seen fans making a comeback to stadiums. We have seen a full crowd at the EURO, Wimbledon and now in various football leagues? Do you expect the world to turn up for West Asia’s first World Cup?
The World Cup is at the end of 2022 and with many people getting vaccinated all over the world, I am sure Qatar will have the fortune of hosting the biggest sporting event after the pandemic. We are also slowly increasing the number of fans in the stadium in accordance to the guidelines provided by the health ministry. From 30 percent earlier in the year, we will have 50 percent capacity during the Arab Cup later this year and are hopeful of having 100 percent attendance even before the World Cup starts.
What precautions are you putting in place to safeguard all stakeholders? Will you allow only vaccinated fans inside stadiums?
I am sure you are referring to a recent statement by our Prime Minister that we will be allowing only vaccinated fans. We are working closely with FIFA, the Ministry of Public Health and other Government authorities to work out a detailed plan, which will be elaborated in the near future.
The Olympics — the other great sporting event besides the football World Cup — was completed in a smooth manner recently in Tokyo. Were there any learnings from the Games that might be implemented at the World Cup?
We are working closely with the football bodies like FIFA and UEFA and doing a lot of knowledge sharing. We have also monitored the protocols that were issued during the Tokyo Olympics. We are doing everything to make sure about the health and safety of everyone involved, whether they are fans, footballers or coaches.
India has also accounted for the majority of tourist footfall in Qatar. In 2019, the year prior to the onset of the pandemic, almost 400,000 Indian nationals (excluding those who live and work in Qatar) visited Qatar, the most by any single nation. Are there any special plans for Indian fans for the World Cup?
When it comes to the population of other nationalities in our country, India has the highest number. India and Qatar have been going hand-in-hand for many years. The Indian community has helped in shaping Qatar as a modern society. We have a lot of Indians working in different sectors like Oil and Gas, medical, education and construction. India is also a strategic market for us. So, we are working with the tourism authorities to ensure that we have a good packages available for everyone who wants to experience our hospitality and culture.
There have been concerns about player health — both physical and mental — as the football calendar had to squeeze in more games in a shorter window to make up for the COVID-induced break. As a senior member of the organizing committee are you concerned about the quality of football that we may see at the World Cup? And also, the overall health of footballers?
The World Cup this time will be held in winter and we hope most of the athletes will be at the peak of their performance. The compact scheduling of the World Cup will also help the players as the teams won’t have to travel as they will be staying in one hotel and will have one training facility designated to each team. There will be less travel time and more resting time for players and this will make a qualitative difference when it comes to performance on the pitch.