By Con Coughlin
In a part of the world that is not exactly renowned for good news, the bold bid by the Gulf state of Qatar to stage soccerâ€™s World Cup in 2022 has the potential to transform the regionâ€™s image throughout the world.
Qatar knows it will face stiff competition from the United States and Australia to stage this prestigious event when its â€œbid bookâ€ is formally submitted next month. But there is nevertheless a quiet confidence at the bid teamâ€™s Doha headquarters that staging a world cup in a region that has never previously hosted an international tournament of this stature will be an attractive proposition for the FIFA judges.
After FIFA took the bold decision to stage this yearâ€™s finals in South Africa, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the enthusiastic young Qatari prince who is masterminding the emirateâ€™s bid, believes there are compelling arguments for awarding the event to the Middle East.
â€œThe best thing FIFA ever did was to give South Africa the World Cup,â€ said Sheikh Mohammed, 22, when I met up with him in Doha. â€œIf FIFA lets us stage the games it will be a massive boost for the sport. If you are talking about expanding the game the Middle East is a relatively untapped market.â€
Soccer is immensely popular throughout the Arab world, and Iraqâ€™s victory in the 2007 Asia Cup was one of those rare moments that succeeded in persuading the vast majority of Iraqis to set aside their sectarian and political differences to savour a moment of national glory.
Staging the World Cup in the Middle East could have a similar unifying effect throughout the region as it would give the wider Arab world a rare opportunity to forget their everyday travails and revel in the excitement of having a prestige event taking place in their midst.
Sheikh Mohammed also believes that size is not an issue when it comes to Qatarâ€™s bid. With a population of just under one-and-half million, he believes one of Qatarâ€™s great attractions would be its compactness as a World Cup venue.
â€œUnlike other World Cups where fans have to take planes to fly from one venue to another to see their team, you would just need one plane ticket to Qatar and then you would have easy access to all the venues,â€ he said. The close proximity of the stadia would also benefit the competing teams, as they would not need to make exhausting journeys to different venues.
The Qataris are also working hard to overcome their greatest obstacle â€“ the weather. The combination of the stifling heat and humidity that descends on the Gulf during the summer is not ideal for sport, but the Qataris are developing a new cooling system that will ensure that temperatures at all the main venues never exceed 28c, which would make Qatar a lot cooler than Mexico.
The new cooling system, which is being developed with the help of German engineers, is one of the many legacy issues the Qataris hope will help to secure them success when the FIFA judges make their final decision on which countries will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups at the end of the year. While the thrust of Englandâ€™s bid is to secure the 2018 event, the Qataris are concentrating all their efforts on 2022 with the bold motto: â€œExpect Amazingâ€.
It certainly will be amazing for both Qatar and the wider Middle East if its bid is successful, as it will help to give the region an enormous confidence boost, in the same way that South Africa will benefit from this yearâ€™s event.
â€œFootball can succeed in bringing people together where politics cannot,â€ says Sheikh Mohammed. And for that reason alone we should all wish the Qatari bid every success.
Tags: Al Thani, middle east, Qatar, world cup