The Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup, which kicks off on Sunday (November 20) with the hosts taking on Ecuador in the lung opener at the 60,000-seater Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor will have many firsts to its credit.
It will be the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East and entire Arab region. In a break from tradition, for the first time in FIFA history, the World Cup is being held in winter to avoid the summer temperature of the Gulf region.
QATAR 2022 SPECIAL PAGE
The 29-day affair, which concludes on December 18, incidentally, the Qatar National Day, will also be the shortest World Cup in FIFA history.
It will be a gross understatement to say that football is a religion in the Middle East and entire Arab world.
Bid in 2009
Thirteen years back, when a young Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani held the centre-stage at the tip of a lagoon on the west coast of Doha to share the news that Qatar had submitted the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it was met with all the cynicism, especially from the western media.
The bone of contention was the timing of the tournament. The quadrennial extravaganza is held usually in the June-July window when the temperatures soar in the Middle East.
The air-conditioned Al Sadd stadium, having in-built cooling technology which can reduce temperature upto 20 degrees had already been a smashing success and in their Qatar 2022 bid, it was clearly mentioned that the same model would be replicated in the stadiums to be constructed for the World Cup.
Once Qatar won the rights to host the 2022 World Cup, FIFA later changed the window of their marquee event, but the country went ahead with their plans. Of the eight World Cup Stadiums constructed/renovated — Khalifa International, Al Bayt, Education City, Al Janoub, Ahmed bin Ali, Lusail, Al Thumama and 974 — except for the last mentioned, which is made of shipping containers, rest all is embedded with state-of-the-art cooling technology.
The challenges for Qatar even after winning the rights were manifold. In June 2017, the Gulf neighbours imposed diplomatic and economic sanctions on Qatar, accusing the country of abetting terrorism, an allegation which the tiny Middle East nation kept denying.
At the 2019 AFC Asian Cup held in the UAE amidst high political tension, Qatar won the battle as well as hearts. During the 4-0 semifinal win over hosts UAE, they were at the receiving end right throughout the 90 minutes.
Ready for kick-off
They were booed by a partisan crowd right from the moment the Qatar national anthem was played. It did not end there.
Sandals and water bottles were thrown at them when Qatar scored and choicest of abuses were hurled by local crowd during the course of the match. Yet Qatar did not respond and with a regal mien and poise shut out their opponents out of the contest.
Main Media Centre
The battle was won, so too the hearts as they say. The ban was lifted after almost after three-and-a-half years. And then the entire world came to a standstill when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic stuck. Qatar went ahead with stadiums constructions, strictly in compliance with the COVID-19 protocols and were able to complete all the eight venues well in advance and almost a year before the kick off.
As a nation, Qatar may be small, but they are big in ambition. And it was very much evident in FIFA chief Gianni Infantino’s words, when he said that “Qatar is ready and it will be the best World Cup ever. As soon as the ball rolls, people will focus on that,” in the pre-event press conference at the sprawling Main Media Centre & International Broadcast Centre at Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha, a day before the first ball is kicked.
And finally as we get ready for the kick off, it is time for expect amazing to become deliver amazing! Yella Qatar!
As someone who has lived in that part of the world and been close to the Qatar 2022 project right from its inception, I can say with authority that it will be delivered amazingly!