The 2022 Qatar World Cup will be “a game-changer,” tournament chief Hassan Al-Thawadi declared Thursday, facing down the many skeptics voicing serious reservations about the gas-rich Gulf state hosting the showpiece.
Al-Thawadi, appearing at a sports business conference in New York, was grilled on everything from corruption allegations dogging FIFA’s pick of Qatar to worries that fans will not be able to get enough alcohol at the first World Cup in the Middle East.
Other questions focused on criticism of working conditions for migrant construction workers and a likely move in the calendar of the World Cup from the summer to the winter, a shift that has drawn howls from football leagues across the globe.
Al-Thawadi, who helped lead Qatar’s bid committee and now oversees a massive building program in a country with little footballing infrastructure or history, sent a message of steely determination.
“We are going to be ready,” he said in an on-stage interview over 40 minutes, part of the “Leaders Sport Business Summit.”
“Hopefully with every day that people see progress on the ground, they’ll come round to the idea that the 2022 event is a game-changer.”
Al-Thawadi reiterated that Qatar’s winning bid — which was met with incredulity when it was announced in December 2010 — had not broken any rules, amid constant claims of corruption at the heart of FIFA,football‘s world governing body.
“We have always maintained that we have full confidence in the integrity of our bid,” Al-Thawadi said.
He acknowledged there will be less alcohol than usual in 2022, but said fans will still be able to drink.
“Alcohol is available in Qatar, not as easily available as in other parts of the world, but it is available,” he said.
“It’s not an issue.”
– FIFA to decide dates –
The most recent controversy is over the decision of a FIFA task force to move the games to the November-December time frame to avoid Qatar’s brutal summer heat. A final decision is expected later this month.
Football officials throughout Europe complained the winter time frame will mess up the season for local leagues. The decision has also ruffled feathers with US broadcasters angry at competition with the lucrative American football season.
Al-Thawadi said Qatar was planning to go forward with the summer games, but will comply with the final decision.
“Whatever the international football community decides, we’re in support of it,” he said.
The interview came near the end of a two-day event with prominent figures from US and European sports. Earlier sessions featured casual conversations with league and franchises over new initiatives to build overseas markets and improve fan engagement.
Addressing skepticism at a building initiative with maximum workforce of 70,000 that will create a trove of new stadiums and some 70 new hotels in Qatar, Al-Thawadi was again defiant.
Five stadiums are already at various stages of construction and the hotel expansion was aligned with Qatar’s long-term economic development plan, he said.
Asked if it was all worth it, Al-Thawadi was emphatic.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Football is that unifying sport… it brings people together.
“Especially at this point in time right now, with the world sadly polarized more and more… we need to tap into a platform that unites people more and more. We need to tap into that spirit.” – Agence France-Presse