Countdown to Qatar 2022: Five points

Despite blockade, the man in charge has no regrets about bringing the football tournament to the Middle East for the first time.

Winter World Cup

Football fans are slowly coming to terms with the idea of a World Cup landing in the middle of many domestic league seasons, and not all of them are happy.

Qatar’s tournament will start on November 21 and finish on December 18 to avoid the country’s hotter months.

The weather naturally dips well below 30 degrees at that time of year, but cooling technology will still be used at all eight stadiums.

European league seasons are likely to start earlier, and an international break in October will be moved.

Players will have to be released by their clubs from November 14. Fans will not be able to get their Premier League or La Liga fix at this time, but there will be the compensation of a World Cup to watch on TV.

Building a team

On November 21, Qatar will kick off the tournament and their first ever World Cup game. The Italian team of 1934 were the last hosts to find themselves in this position.

Millions have been spent developing the best young players at the country’s national academy, and three years ago Qatar’s Under-19 team won the Asian title.

That investment is yet to translate into success at senior levels, with the national team finishing bottom of their group in the final stage of qualifying for Russia 2018.

Spain’s Felix Sanchez is the current national coach, but expect a more high-profile name to be in charge by 2022.

Dealing with the blockade

Since June, four Arab countries have imposed an air, sea and land blockade on Qatar.

Organisers insist they have found alternate transport routes and suppliers and that their plans remain unaffected.

This month the government announced that around two-thirds of all World Cup projects were finished and all would be completed by 2020.

But the political impasse is already having a footballing impact. In December, Qatar is due to host the Gulf Cup, a tournament that normally involves eight countries.

But three of the nations at odds with Qatar have decided to pull out. The absence of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE sets a potentially worrying precedent for 2022.

Hassan al-Thawadi thinks it is easy for the global media to stereotype Qatar [Getty Images]
Hassan al-Thawadi thinks it is easy for the global media to stereotype Qatar [Getty Images]

Workers rights

Big progress has been made in improving the conditions of migrant workers but Qatar 2022 organisers are the first to admit more needs to be done.

In November, the UN labour agency, ILO, decided to drop its case against the country in recognition of recent reforms that include a guaranteed minimum wage and allowing workers to leave the country without their employers’ permission.

The rights group Humanity United has stressed that workers remain vulnerable and vigilance is still needed.

Selling Qatar

Hassan al-Thawadi, head of the organising committee, says Qatar is at a disadvantage because globally the country is something of an unknown quantity.

He says it has been easier for the world’s media to criticise and stereotype his country due to an apparent lack of knowledge.

Al-Thawadi and his team have five years to change some of these preconceptions and start convincing fans that the first Arab World Cup may have some hidden benefits.

For example, the compact nature of the 2022 event means fans could realistically watch two or three live games a day.

It’s that sort of headline the organisers hope the world will start paying attention to.

Source: Al Jazeera