*It’s the decade of my life — Fatima Al Nuaimi

Lusail Stadium in Qatar
By Onochie Anibeze
Qatar won the bid to host 2022 World Cup in 2010. From that moment it’s been work, work and work. And when the whistle blows for the opening match on Monday, November 21, Qatar hopes to deliver the best World Cup ever. Hospitality, infrastructure, stadium facilities are all state of the art. And security?

Take this: For every two-metre step you make at the Al Wakrah Stadium there’s CÇTV to capture your movement. Every step you make at the stadium you’re captured by CCTV which is directly linked to many security offices including Interpol. It’s same in the other stadiums Qatar will present for the World Cup. That’s just a tip of the iceberg as far as security matters are concerned.

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Engineer Abdulaziz Ali Abdullah Jabir Al-Ishaq, FM Director at the stadium renamed Al Janoub Stadium took journalists around the facilities   last week and what the visitors experienced was amazing. When the theme song for the World Cup blared in the magnificent edifice to welcome the visitors some feeling of pride swept through this reporter.

Our popular artist, Davido was at the centre stage doing what he knows how to do best. The music got some dancing. The video, shown on the large screens at the stadium, was captivating. When it was over, Abdulaziz ordered for some Arab music to be played. “I want to put everybody here in good mood, get everybody dancing for this is part of the Arab culture you’ll experience here in November,’ he said. He is known for spicing his presentations with humour. He didn’t disappoint. He entertained with jokes while taking the journalists around. 

“Some people come to matches but are more interested in displaying the colours of their countries than watching the games. They come to promote their countries. They will all be safe here. They will enjoy their stay in Qatar. We have 1,500 CCTVs but had to add 250 more. Whatever one does will be captured by these CCTVs,” he said, adding “they are linked to Interpol.”

Al Janoub is beautiful but not the biggest. Many other venues have more CCTVs. It’s a 40,000-seater stadium with a retractable roof. It will be reduced to 20,000 capacity after the World Cup. The removed parts will be donated to developing countries. It is the stadium that will host the first match of Nigeria’s conquerors, Ghana who play Uruguay there December 2. It delighted Williams Ezah and Al Smith, two Ghanaian journalists among the team touring the facilities after watching the two international playoff games that produced Australia and Costa Rica as the last qualifiers for the World Cup.

“This stadium was opened in 2019 but has already hosted 85 matches and among them were 45 international matches,” Abdulaziz continued. “The cooling technology works superbly and the World Cup will be taking place at winter. It makes the weather beautiful for football. We will have football, there will be culture, there will be entertainment,” Abdulaziz said. Al Janoub will host seven matches including a quarter final match. Before Al Janoub, the journalists had visited the 86,000 capacity Lusail   stadium that will host the final match of the World Cup and Al Bayt that will host the opening ceremony and opening match. Qatar is simply ‘singing songs’ with their facilities.

More music followed as Abdlaziz was rounding off. That entertained until Fatima Al Nuaimi, Communications and Media Executive Director for the World Cup faced the world press. Beautiful, brainy and friendly, her interaction with the media was revealing. Qatar boasts five to seven – star hotels everywhere and many have been wondering how people of low income who make World Cup a carnival every Mundial will survive there.

“There are options for every class, for everybody,” she said, confirming   the thousands of apartments being put in place for fans to hire during the World Cup. Affordable hotels are also available. Apartments of different rooms, sizes are being put in place for the World Cup. Many have been completed and more will be ready before November 21.

Qatar goes the extra mile in almost everything. Providing apartments for the World Cup is special. Families or groups can hire apartments, make their food, do their laundry and live their normal family lives while attending the games. It is cheaper and better for some who are not crazy about hotel atmosphere. Some hospitality suits at stadiums like the ones at Al Bayt Stadium have everything for the comfort of users. Television, fridge and even bed if one wants to rest at half time or before the matches begin. AMAZING.

From the sales of tickets, Qatar may host about one million fans. And if they are more, Fatima exuded confidence that there are facilities to accommodate all. 1.2m tickets had already been sold. She has been on the job since they won the bid in 2010 and speaks authoritatively on issues. She spoke about her experience on the journey – the achievements and challenges – and while noting that tremendous marks have been made in the areas of infrastructure, hospitality, hosting international championships in preparation of the World Cup, she admitted concerns following criticisms on labour matters but proudly noted how the country promptly reacted, resulting in the seamless operations the visitors were experiencing, five months to the World Cup. 

“It’s been the decade of my life,” she said of the past ten years, wearing a countenance that expressed tough times cascading into amazing milestones as if agreeing with the saying that ‘good things don’t come easy.’

Shortly after the interaction with her, football legend, Lothar Matthaus, one of the   ambassadors of Qatar 2022 joined us and assured that “there will be good football, beautiful here when the World Cup begins.” Matthaus has seen it all in football. He won the World Cup in 1990 with Germany and was once the World Footballer of the Year. The visiting journalists were excited to meet him. He answered many questions and reeled out a summary of memorable events of the past World Cups from Argentina ’78.

“We shall have good weather for football here in November,” he said, adding “I have played in California and I knew what it was like, I have played in Mexico and we knew how hot it was. But here in Qatar in November, the weather will be beautiful for football. We’ll have a good football party here,” the Bayern Munich icon said while speaking about his experiences as a player and as Qatar 2022 World Cup Ambassador. He can’t wait for the football party to begin.

He said the facilities are excellent. Asked what he thought of African teams, he said “before now they played more for themselves but now they play more for the team, they are getting better.” It was his way of saying he expected them to do well in Qatar. That delighted African journalists around. Interestingly the interaction was at Al Janoub Stadium that will host Ghana’s tie with Uruguay, December 2.

Al Smith of Ghana’s Joy TV and Williams Ezah of the Ghana News Agency who were on tour posed with the Ghana flag throughout our tour of the facilities at Al Janoub Stadium to the envy of this reporter and Duro Ikhazuagbe of Thisday Newspapers. We will hopefully return to Qatar to cover the Black Stars of Ghana and not the Eagles of Nigeria. Sad for Nigeria, good for Ghana.

See what Nigeria will miss; See what Ghana denied Nigeria

Bledson Mathew from Ivory Coast, Angu Lesley from Cameroun, Williams Ezuh and Al Smith from Ghana, Abdullahi from Senegal, Duro Ikhazuagbe and yours sincerely were the African journalists in Qatar to cover the intercontinental qualifiers between Australia and Peru and between Costa Rica and New Zealand. They were interesting outings. Peru dazzled on the stands with their fans who cheered, produced music that entertained so much that all longed for them to return to Qatar in November.

Peru were in Qatar with about 12,000 fans whose nonstop music – trumpeting, drumming, singing and dancing wowed everybody. They played their best on the   stands and won there but lost the one that mattered most on the pitch. Australia beat them (5-4) on penalties and many felt for Peru. Costa Rica’s early minute goal against New Zealand was enough to earn them the last spot for the World Cup the following day. We experienced the effects of the cooling technology in both matches.

The atmosphere was cold. Qatar has the technology to cool atmospheric temperature and they did it in the two matches. Many needed jackets to keep warm. And with the World Cup to hold in November, the weather, like Lothar Matthaus said, will be beautiful for football. Countries may play their best football in the best facilities ever to be presented for the World Cup.

And as we toured on inspection of some facilities the Ghanaian journalists kept teasing their brothers from Nigeria. Duro and I took the jokes in good faith. ‘See what Nigeria will miss’, Williams suggested as the headline of an imaginary story. On another occasion he imagined a better headline – ‘See what Ghana denied Nigeria.’ Truly, Ghana denied Nigeria good football experience in Qatar. Millions of dollars have been lost in our failure.

Amazing experience in Qatar will not be possible. The first compact World Cup. The first time fans could visit two different venues to watch two matches in one day. The first stadiums to offer air conditioning technology in the stands and on the pitches. The first World Cup in the Middle East. The first World Cup a Nigerian will sing the theme song and perform in the opening ceremony.

Davido, Trinidad Cardona and Aisha are the artists behind Hayya Hayya (better together), the theme song of Qatar 2022. The first World Cup to tag their Local Organisers SUPREME COMMITTEE FOR DELIVERY AND LEGACY and not Local Organising Committee, LOC. Theirs is not only to deliver the best World Cup but also to deliver legacies in line with their Vision 2030.

There are many firsts stringed around what will likely be an amazing World Cup that Nigeria will miss. Sad for Nigeria and kudos to Hassan Al Thawadi, Fatima Al Nuaimi and the rest of Supreme Committee members. Kudos to the African qualifiers. We await the 2022 spectacle in Qatar.

Vanguard News


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