Qatar: Eyes on the prize

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Qatar is ratcheting up its campaign to host the 2022 World Cup as the race nears an end. With a decision due on December 2, boosts have come in the shape of a successful staging of a friendly match between South American footballing giants, praise for the emirate’s green credentials and vocal support from none other than Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

The bid had been dealt a blow by a Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) report released on November 17 that listed reservations over climate, infrastructure and logistics.

The FIFA report on each of the nine contenders for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, compiled by inspectors, found that while each of the five countries bidding for the 2022 tournament had distinct advantages – each also had their downsides. The other contenders are Australia, Japan, South Korea and the US.

While FIFA was impressed with some aspects of Qatar’s bid, such as plans to use solar power for air-cooled stadiums, and to build modular stadia that would be later dismantled and donated to developing countries, it was ranked as a “high” risk venue in some categories. Among the issues flagged was that 10 of the 12 stadiums needed for the tournament would be located within a 25-30 km radius, a close proximity that FIFA said could create operational and logistical challenges. The report also noted that currently Qatar only has one airport capable of handling international flights.

However, it was the climatic conditions expected in Qatar during the summer months when the tournament is held that most concerned officials, as temperatures can soar up to 50 degrees centigrade. “The fact that the competition is planned in June-July, the two hottest months of the year in this region, has to be considered as a potential health risk for players, officials, the FIFA family and spectators, and requires precautions to be taken,” the report said.

Qatari officials quickly responded to the concerns. Hassan Al-Thawadi, the chief executive of the emirate’s bid organisation, Qatar 2022, said it was pleased that FIFA had welcomed the country’s environmental plans and uniquely constructed stadia.

“FIFA’s bid evaluation recognises many of Qatar’s exciting and innovative hosting plans, and highlights the extensive national, regional and international legacy which would result from a FIFA World Cup being held in the Middle East,” Al-Thawadi said, in a statement issued only hours after FIFA released its report.

The Qatar bid chief executive rejected concerns over the climate, saying that the air-cooled solutions for all stadiums, training sites, fans zones and other outdoor areas had already been devised and indeed were in use at existing venues.

“In addition, while the report confirms that substantial construction is needed to deliver our hosting plans, all of this development is an integral part of the Qatar National Plan and will be delivered well within the time limits required for the 2022 World Cup,” said Al Thawadi.

Qatar hosted the Asian Games in 2006 and the Asian Football Confederation’s Asian Cup in 1988, and is scheduled to do so again next year. Qatar’s climate also did not stop the FIFA Under-20 World Cup being held in the emirate in 1995.

The day that FIFA handed down its report, Qatar hosted an international match between Argentina and Brazil, a match won by the former and reportedly much enjoyed by 40,000 enthusiastic fans.

In regards to travel infrastructure, a second international airport is due to open in 2012 – a decade before the first match of the 2022 World Cup kicks off – with the capacity to handle 50m passengers a year. There is also an extensive metro system planned for completion well ahead of the tournament, providing Qatar with one of the most modern people-moving networks of any of the bidding counties.

According to Al-Thawadi there are no issues raised in the report that have not already been addressed. “We are aware of the concerns expressed but we have ensured that all of them can be answered to the satisfaction of the global football family. Our bid remains on track and focused on a successful final presentation in Zurich,” he said.

Ferguson echoed this positivity in November, stating that success in the bid was “definitely achievable. I would back the Qatar bid. I admire their purpose and vision." Ferguson added that the Gulf state had a “marvelous chance” of hosting the finals, a view that is gaining more and more credence as the deadline approaches.

 

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