|Thousands of fans in Qatar erupted in collective joy after a suspense-ridden wait [Najad Abdullahi/AL Jazeera]
Massive celebrations erupted on the streets of Doha, Qatar’s capital, after Fifa, football’s world governing body, announced the tiny Gulf country will host the sport’s biggest tournament in 2022.
The decision came as a surprise to many around the world, but for Qataris, it represented a chance for others to know them better.
Sepp Blatter, president of Fifa, announced on Thursday that Russia and Qatar won their bids to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup respectively.
“Never has the World Cup been in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and Arabic world have been waiting for a long time so I’m a happy president when we talk about the development of football,” Blatter said after a vote of his executive committee at the Fifa headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani, Qatar’s bid chairman, told Fifa executives in Zurich: “Thank you for backing us and expanding the game. You will be proud of us and you will be proud of the Middle East.”
Population: 1.5m, of which only 200,000 are Qatari
Qataris and expatriates in Doha shared his joy.
“We are really crying from our hearts. This is like a dream. It means everything to us,” Khalifa Khalaf, an employee in the country’s energy industry, said.
“We will prove to the world that good things come from small places.”
Widespread traffic jams were witnessed across Doha following Fifa’s announcement as crowds of Qataris and expatriates took to the streets.
“It’s hard to speak, we’re so happy. You cannot believe how happy we are. We’re celebrating because we are so proud of Qatar,” Ismail Taymour, a lifelong resident of Doha, said.
The choice of Qatar and Russia as host nations is Fifa’s ultimate recognition to emerging markets.
Both new hosts are major energy producers and both had planned larger and costlier investment in infrastructure and new stadiums than all their respective rivals.
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, flew in to Zurich after the ceremony to meet and thank Blatter and Fifa.
“We are honoured to win in this tough and fair fight,” he told reporters. “Thank you for supporting Russia. Together let us make sure football supports fair play, tolerance, honour.”
Qatar bagged the 2022 bid over rivals Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States. They committed in their bid document to building nine new stadiums and renovating three existing grounds at a cost of around $3bn.
“You need very large areas where people can relax, have entertainment. You need great beaches, which Qatar doesn’t have at the moment, where people can take a dip in the water”.
Ajit Kumar Jha, editor of Qatar Tribune
Al Jazeera’s Jane Dutton, reporting from Doha, said the small country had big challenges to face after the “huge” victory.
“Before the fans even get here there are moral issues that need to be addressed, this is a Muslim state. We know football fans enjoy alcohol. We know that there will be fan zones where alcohol will be served.
“Also what is going to happen to the visa system. Rather stringent rules apply, so that has yet to be addressed.
“But the biggest issue that fans and organisers have to look forward to is from a geographical point of view, because clearly Qatar is very hot. In June and July [when the World Cup is held], temperatures reach 42, sometimes 50 degrees celsius.
“So Qatar will build 12 new stadiums that are climate controlled for fans and players. They will be solar powered, so it will be environmentally friendly.
“Qatar is also promising to spend $50bn on public transport at the moment. There will be a new airport and metro system.”
|Thousands took to the streets to celebrate Qatar’s World Cup bid victory [Najad Abdullahi/AL Jazeera]
Ajit Kumar Jha, editor of Qatar Tribune newspaper, told Al Jazeera that the Gulf country needs to restructure itself significantly.
“You need very large areas where people can relax, have entertainment. You need great beaches – which Qatar doesn’t have at the moment – where people can take a dip in the water,” he said.
Jha said that Qatar had to restructure itself “socially, economically and politically” to satisfy international standards.
“But it’s a step in the right direction because Qatar was liberalising. Qatar is perhaps the most liberal country in the Gulf, more than the UAE and Oman.”
Others across the region shared Qatar’s triumph.
“This is going to bring a lot of football into the region. The whole world will be watching us, and this will change the view the world has on Arab football,” Mejo Jose, manager of the Safa Football Club in the UAE city of Dubai, said.