Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Qatar on the right track

2022 HOSTS REBUILD RELATIONS AND SHOW STADIUM PROGRESS

Things are looking up for Qatar 2022.

FIFA's most controversial World Cup hosts have not had it easy. But with two years to go, they seem to be on course.

The cards are beginning to fall into place. The fourth of eight World Cup stadia has just been finished and the Gulf state's neighbours have just ended a three-year blockade which had shut Qatar's land border with the United Arab Emirates and stopped flights and shipping between the two countries.

With the country set to host FIFA's Club World Cup again next month, PR for the 2022 tournament will get another boost. While the idea of a winter World Cup still appals many traditionalists, most fans would die for a top-quality football tournament to enjoy right now to take their minds off this bleak virus-plagued winter.

The venues of Ahmed Bin-Ali (40,000), Al-Bayt (60,000), Al-Janoub (40,000) and Education City (40,000) are now complete and ready for football, with work progressing well on the remaining stadia. 

Bin-Ali & Education City are the venues for next month's Club World Cup, featuring Bayern Munich (Germany), Ulsan Hyundai (Korea), UANL Tigres (Mexico), Al Ahly (Egypt) and Al Dusail from Qatar, as well as the winners of South America's Copa Libertadores  - either Palmeiras or Santos (both Brazil).

The Club World Cup kicks off on the 1st of February with the final on the 11th.

World Cup 2022
World Cup 2022

The showpiece venue for the World Cup in two years' time is the 80,000 seat Lusail stadium, designed by Foster & Partners, which is yet to be finished.

With regional relations now being gradually restored there is hope that travel to the finals will be hassle-free for the million or so fans expected.

FIFA is cautiously optimistic its most controversial hosting decision will not be made any worse. 

Its showpiece event being hosted by an international pariah would not be a good look. That said, outside opprobrium did not stop them going to Fascist Italy in 1934 or the military junta of Argentina in 1978, the last time an authoritarian regime was in charge. 

Qatar is no democracy either but its immense wealth and high standard of living paper over the cracks. 

It is not a volatile nation like Iraq or Yemen are right now yet its location in the Middle East is inevitably a cause of worry in the West, concerns confirmed by the three-year blockade which is thankfully now easing.

The UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia had imposed an embargo on the World Cup hosts in June 2017 because of Qatar's alleged links to terrorism. Time and again, the finger was pointed at the little state for harbouring individuals funding radical causes in the region.

This was complicated because although Qatar has admitted wealthy backers of banned groups are living within its borders it has also pledged international cooperation to fight extremism a number of times and now agreed to a Kuwaiti/USA brokered deal to normalise relations with its neighbours.

World Cup 2022

Other reasons for the blockade are probably political - Qatar shares a gas field with Iran, which annoyed Saudi Arabia, and has a military tie-up with Turkey, which angered the UAE because those nations backed opposing sides in the Libyan conflict.

Perhaps the small and wealthy nation has never really wanted to immerse itself in the fiery politics of the Middle East for good reason, but that policy has been exploited by some rich men with bad intentions.

Relations with its big neighbour Saudi Arabia appear to be healing now, with both nations' leaders embracing and Doha's international news network Al-Jazeera striking a notably softer tone in its reporting of the kingdom.

Fingers crossed, the World Cup will be hassle and trouble-free. With Covid-19 still the major challenge worldwide for football, FIFA could do without any additional headaches down the line.

Given the scale of recovery from pandemic required, the extra five and a half months FIFA & Qatar will have the year after next to organise the World Cup suddenly looks like a blessing in disguise.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

No comments: