…Fifteen minutes with Hassan al Thawadi
By Onochie Anibeze
Two weeks ago, Qatar unveiled the design of the Lusail Stadium as part of the activities that marked the four-year count-down to the 2022 World Cup which they will host.
Journalists from all over the world visited the site of the stadium that will host the opening ceremony and the final match aside some other group matches. Although construction was ongoing it made impact on the visitors. The stadium would be ready in 2020, two years before the games. Qatar plans to host unique World Cup finals and they are working to achieve that. Tamin el Abed, the Project Manager of the stadium guided us around the project that has a Nigerian, Eugene Okosun as Health ans Safety Manager. The stadium, like the others Qatar will present, will have a cooling effect in the main bowl and the environs.
Hassan al Thawadi is the Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, a committee charged with delivering the World Cup and ensuring legacies that will outlive the World Cup. With journalists from Asia, Europe and Africa he fielded questions. Each had 15 minutes with him. Excerpts:
How are the preparations going?
The preparations are actually going very well. The stadium is moving along according to schedule. We are scheduled to finalize all work by 2020. The infrastructural work is also scheduled to be ready and operational by 2020 as well – the railway, metro system, the expressways and so on. And now we are moving on to the operational phase with FIFA. We are wrapping up the operational plans before 2022.
On inputs from FIFA
Currently, there’s a feasibility study that’s being undertaken and the decision will be taken between FIFA and Qatar as the President had mentioned. Now, we’re just awaiting the results of the feasibility studies to be able to look into the matter.
On schedule of matches
The match schedules have not been set out yet, so I can’t comment on that till then. Most matches at the end of the group stage are usually four matches in a day, so it’s not something strange.
A lot of people will want to come to Qatar for the World Cup. What can they expect in Qatar?
Qatar is known for its sun, sand and beach and that’s something we are very proud of. We are very happy to showcase our culture and hospitality. A lot of entertainment activities will be developed as well during the event. But I believe the World Cup itself has its own excitement – with the unique aerobic feel, touch and glow to it. Definitely, we are very excited to be hosting and welcoming fans. The hotel and accommodation plans will range from 5-star to 1-star. Everybody from any economic bracket would be able to experience good and safe accommodation in accordance with what they can afford.
What are some of those things fans should look forward to during the World Cup?
First, they would be able to watch more than one match a day. They wouldn’t have to worry about changing accommodation from one place to another. Also, because it would be holding in November/December, it means they would be seeing football players who won’t have to travel from one place to another so they will have a lot of energy. And it would be in the middle of the season, so a lot of players would already have their energy levels high, which means you would be able to watch the greatest football on the pitch itself.
What discussions have you reached concerning the Confederations Cup?
We haven’t finalized yet. There are still ongoing discussions on that matter.
How would you describe the journey so far?
The journey has been invigorating. Obviously, we’ve gone through tough times, up and down moments like any journey, but it was no doubt, a very intense journey, one that everyday seems to confirm why we started this journey from the beginning. When we see the results on ground and more importantly, when we see the excitement for the people of the region, how this has changed their lives in a positive way, it feels good. For us, this is a transformative moment for the region.
How much have you been able to achieve because of this?
I can tell you this much. There was a lot of misconception about Qatar and the established one is that we are not a football nation. Till today, a lot of people still have that misconception, but we’ve changed some hearts and minds and that shows that we’re on the right path. The issue on workers welfare – it was something the state of Qatar committed to change.
We saw the World Cup as a catalyst towards achieving that change. We suffered a lot of criticisms – some of them constructive criticisms that we welcome, others were unfounded criticisms and based on misinformation. Today, our critics have recognized the work that we are doing and the positive steps we’re making, which means some hearts and minds have changed. Not only have they changed as a result of knowing us, but also as a result of what’s been changed on ground as well. I believe we are on the right path, it’s not an easy path or journey.
If you ask me percentage-wise, I can’t answer you, but what I can tell you is in terms of meeting people throughout the world, now whenever I tell them I’m from Qatar, I see the excitement, passion and eagerness that they have for the 2022 World Cup. I met someone in the World Cup in Russia and he told me he would start saving money immediately for the World Cup in Qatar. I can assure you that he will enjoy his money.
On emerging companies and businesses from China and others countries in Qatar
It was the idea of kick-starting and accelerating the entrepreneurial spirit of the region. What we wanted to do was not just find solutions that we would utilize for the sake of the World Cup, but will actually invigorate the entrepreneurial spirit within the region to be able to lift us up, so that five years from 2022, we’ll be able to turn around and say “These companies came into the region as a result of the World Cup and they’ve started creating jobs and business opportunities for people as well.”
Why did they choose Qatar/Chinese Joint Venture as the main constructor?
This is part of the tender. When the tender came out, there were obviously technical requirements, commercial requirements and so on. The company won the tender fair and square.
What were those factors that made you strong when some issues not even related to football were raised against Qatar?
As a country, as a community, we’ve always faced challenges and obstacles and we utilize them to our benefit for improvement. Every crisis that we face in different sectors and as a country, we were able to utilize the opportunity and use it as a stepping stone towards improving and moving forward. These are the qualities that we are very proud of – perseverance, tenacity, commitment and a belief in the bigger vision that we are trying to deliver
We would want to see your team – Qatar at least in the second round of the World to ginger local interest. Will you be ready?
I think the team is developing very well right now. We played a friendly match recently against Switzerland and we beat them 1-0. There’s no doubt that we have the technical capability to put on a very good performance. We have very good and energetic talents and we are very confident in our capabilities.