FIFA president Gianni Infantino has applauded Qatar’s “strong and continued commitment” to hosting an “unforgettable” World Cup in 2022 as the country today celebrates the start of the two-year countdown to the quadrennial football showpiece.
It marks another momentous occasion in Qatar’s progress as a nation in tune with the universal values of peace, brotherhood and human dignity, as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and also in line with the Qatar National Vision 2030.
When hosts Qatar and a yet-to-be-identified team face off at the Al Bayt Stadium on Saturday, to kick-start the tournament, it will be an epochal moment in the history of the Arab world, a region which is often a target of unfair negative stereotyping in the western media.
But if sport can be a catalyst for change — and this also includes a change in how things are perceived — there could be no bigger occasion than the FIFA World Cup or the Olympics, which will also surely come to Qatar in the not-so-far future.
Ever since Qatar won the bid to host the FIFA World Cup on December 2, 2010, the country has had to deal with a tide of direct attacks and innuendos over its so-called “lack of sporting history and culture”.
Some of the stuff written and spoken in the western media bordered on racism, but the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), led by its Secretary General HE Hassan al-Thawadi, adopted a pro-active policy of engagement and co-operation, eventually winning over the critics.
Infantino’s message on Friday reflected this when he personally thanked His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani for his leadership and dedication to the cause.
“2020 has surely been a challenging year for the entire world, and football was no exception,” Infantino said.
“Despite the difficulties, steady progress was made in the last few months, showing yet again Qatar’s strong and continued commitment – under the leadership of His Highness the Amir, whom I personally thank – to hosting an unforgettable FIFA World Cup in two years’ time, which will no doubt build a legacy long beyond 2022.”
The global football boss also highlighted the reforms Qatar has instituted over the years to be in tune with the times.
“Besides the very important labor reforms recently announced by the government, progress has also been made on stadium construction, along with the implementation of strict measures to protect workers’ health.
“During my short visit to Doha a few weeks ago, I witnessed first-hand how well preparations have advanced, and I am looking forward with confidence to Qatar 2022, for the transformative impact it is already having on the country and the region, for the unique experience it will provide fans from all over the world and, of course, for witnessing the best World Cup ever.”
HE Hassan al-Thawadi, Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, added: “We are immensely proud of the progress we have made over the last ten years.
“Both tournament and national infrastructure projects are well advanced, with everything on track to be completed well ahead of the big kick-off. Our legacy projects, meanwhile, are already having an impact on people’s lives in areas such as workers’ rights, education and entrepreneurship.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has delayed the qualifying process for the World Cup, but with no further disruptions to the schedule, the draw for the 32 teams taking part in the event will be held in April 2022.
By Anil John
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2020