Qatar’s 12-year journey as a World Cup host is still a month away

GENEVA (AP) – The first World Cup in the Middle East is a month away, nearing the end of an often bumpy 12-year journey for Qatar that has transformed a nation.

Qatar faced skepticism over how it convinced FIFA to vote for the country in 2010; criticism of the way migrant workers were treated building stadiums and infrastructure for tournaments; and derision from the world of football due to the date change from the traditional June-July period to November-December.

The small Arab country jutting out into the Persian Gulf has weathered all that, as well as hostility from neighboring states that imposed a three-year economic and diplomatic boycott that ended in January 2021.

On November 20, football’s biggest tournament will finally kick off a few hours after sunset at the 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium – a new venue north of Doha built for the World Cup. The host country’s burgundy-and-white-clad team will open the tournament that has defined the image of the gas-rich emirate against a team from Ecuador – probably.

All 64 matches over 29 days involving 32 teams will take place in the Doha area, with many more performances and cultural events planned for football-led entertainment in a conservative Muslim society.

For a month, Qatar will relax strict restrictions on where alcohol can be bought, including serving beer from World Cup sponsor Budweiser at eight stadiums and at the official big-screen viewing venue in Al Bidda Park.

Promises of “the best World Cup ever, on and off the pitch” were made on Monday by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who said the same in Moscow four years ago when Russia hosted the tournament.

However, since the 2010 decisions to select Russia and Qatar as future World Cup hosts, 21 of the 24 men on FIFA’s Executive Committee have been variously convicted in criminal or ethics cases, indicted, acquitted at trial or implicated in criminal offences. .

The then president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, is one of them, who is still banned from the sport he led for 17 years due to various misdeeds. Blatter, however, said he did not vote for Qatar.

Around 1.2 million visitors are expected in Qatar for the first World Cup to be played in the middle of the traditional European football season, a move to avoid the oppressive desert heat of the Middle East.

“We are opening our doors to them in Doha without discrimination,” Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, told the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month.

However, there is one unprecedented late doubt, with the actual tournament line-up still under dispute. Chile and Peru appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to challenge Ecuador’s qualification, claiming it used an ineligible player.

This year’s tournament will be among the most expensive World Cups for fans and certainly the most political in modern times. Currently, players from Brazil are being used as political weapons in the election campaign, and players from Iran are supporting protests at home following the death of a 22-year-old woman after being detained by morality police.

Eight of Europe’s 13 teams said last month that their captains would wear a multi-coloured heart armband at matches in support of the “One Love” campaign against discrimination.

This gesture is a clear violation of FIFA rules. It also reflects unease at home about taking soccer’s biggest event to Qatar, where homosexual acts are illegal and labor and human rights have been a decades-long controversy. Qatar points to changes in labor laws in its defense and says LGTBQ fans will not face arrest.

This week, the United States Soccer Federation joined six European federations in supporting calls by rights advocates to create a compensation fund for workers, many from South Asia, who have been killed or injured.

“With the World Cup looming, the job of protecting migrant workers from exploitation is only half done, while the job of redressing those who have suffered abuse has barely begun,” said Steve Cockburn, head of economic and social justice at Amnesty International.

FIFA deputy general secretary Alasdair Bell said last week it was open to talks about a cure and reparations. It is unclear whether any money would come from FIFA’s $6 billion in World Cup revenue; the Qatari government, which has reformed many labor laws faster than its regional rivals; or construction firms, which employed workers in physical and contractual conditions that activists condemned as modern slavery.

Migrant workers have helped transform Doha into a futuristic city whose ambitions to rival regional hubs such as Dubai and Singapore will be on display in the run-up to the World Cup.

“As you look around the country today, at the state-of-the-art stadiums, the training grounds, the metro, the wider infrastructure, everything is ready and everyone is welcome,” said Infantino, who moved from Zurich to live in Doha for his final year of preparation.

The infrastructure exists. The challenges for Qatar are on a human scale for a country of just 350,000 citizens in a population that has swelled to 2.6 million due to migrants working in construction, domestic and service sectors, as well as white-collar jobs.

“The world will see that medium and small countries are able to host global events with great success,” the emir told UN delegates.

For security, Qatar will rely on the expertise and hardware of allies, including sniffer dogs, an anti-drone system and surveillance aircraft from France, and a warship and riot police from Turkey. US Army Central Command has its forward headquarters at Al Udeid Air Base.

This year’s World Cup will be held in the smallest territory since Switzerland in 1954 and will uniquely have the majority of fans living together in one city.

Turkey is sending around 3,000 riot police to the tournament, which – while it usually brings a wealthier type of fan than the stereotypical football hooligan – should see a Western-style exuberance on the streets of Doha.

“We want to make sure the police … are in the right place,” US Ambassador Timmy Davis said this week. “We want to make sure that there is a level of patience and tolerance in ministries for what the world brings when you invite the world into your country.”

One recent arrival in Doha was carrying 3 kilograms (6 pounds) of methamphetamine in a suitcase that was seized, Qatari customs said this week.

Doha is creating a party scene that is likely to be a hub for ravers from all over the Gulf states, with ticket prices ranging from $45 to $7,500.

Line-ups confirmed this month include DJs David Guetta and Fatboy Slim, rappers DaBaby and Tyga, and singers Amr Diab and Jorja Smith, who perform at outdoor festivals deep into the night in Doha when temperatures rarely drop below 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit ).

Near the main airport, the 5,000-capacity Aravia festival site is run by a Saudi music promoter, and the nearby 15,000-capacity Arcadia Spectacular brings the flavor of England’s famous Glastonbury festival, including its huge, fire-breathing metal stage.

Post Malone, Maroon 5 and Black Eyes Peas are on the concert schedule at Doha Golf Club.

It all adds up to a promise Qatari officials have made since the host campaign began in 2009: We love football like you, come and enjoy it, but respect our cultural traditions.


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