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  ‘Negative perception will last till first whistle is blown’

‘Negative perception will last till first whistle is blown’

Published : Nov 9, 2016, 6:34 am IST
Updated : Nov 9, 2016, 6:34 am IST

Ever since Qatar was awarded the 2022 Fifa World Cup, quite a few eyebrows have been raised along with questions on the country’s ability to host the premier event.

Ever since Qatar was awarded the 2022 Fifa World Cup, quite a few eyebrows have been raised along with questions on the country’s ability to host the premier event.

It’s too hot, there is a liquor ban, comments flowed thick and fast. Now, six years from the event, not only is Qatar ahead of schedule with their infrastructure but they are even thinking of its applications beyond the tournament, so as to avoid the ‘ghost stadiums’ situations that has developed in Brazil.

With eight stadiums, currently in construction and monitored live by cameras that beam images to their planning room, covering just 35 square kilometres, the 2022 edition will see the most compact and travel-friendly World Cup.

The breakaway top section of the stadiums which ensures that the facilities can be transported to countries that are in need for the infrastructure is one of many innovative features. Nasser Al-Khater, Assistant Secretary-General of Tournament Affairs, Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, spoke at length to this newspaper about Qatar’s plans for the marquee event.

Excerpts: How has the experience been since winning the bid We have been very pleased with the progress we have made so far. Actually on some stadiums we are ahead of schedule. If we look at some of our stakeholders’ projects, which are necessary for the World Cup, for example, we’re building the Metro. They’ve completely finished the tunnelling and they are on track to have the Metro operational by 2019.

What we are battling right now is this negative perception that has been unfortunately perpetuated. We have to fight that and live through it, just like all other major events, until the first whistle is blown. Then everybody focuses on football.

On the World Cup’s legacy The important thing that we don’t want to take our eyes off is the sustainable legacy of the World Cup. As an example, there’s no intra-country travel by plane and everybody will be travelling by public transport.

We’re also working with the government to build a solar-power generation plant of between 100 and 200 megaWatts, that will not only go towards providing power to the stadiums, but can also be plugged into the grid.

On criticism about the workers’ conditions: We knew that at the peak, we would have about 25,000 to 30,000 workers working on our stadiums. It was very important for us to make sure that their environment and living conditions are comfortable.

There is a culture of agents that take advantage of workers that want to work abroad. So this is something that’s very hard to tackle. Then you come to the other issue is how to make sure our contractors abide.

Qatar as a country has progressed tremendously over the last 15 years and there is recognition of that our laws need to change. But the pressure we’re getting is ‘it’s been one year, you haven’t changed your laws.’ Any country that wants to change a law has to pass through a legislative process, and that sometimes takes time. But we’re happy to say that there have been gradual steps, and laws have changed the accommodation standards, and now there’s going to be a complete change in the employment law for the better. On moving the World Cup to winter: We were kind of disappointed (with the shift in dates) we wanted to show off the air-cooling technology. We’ve had outdoor air-cooling technology in open spaces since 2008. Qatar has the IP (intellectual propriety) for this technology. I still think there’s an opportunity to use it.

Quote unqoute On the issue of alcohol, which is such an intrinsic part of the World Cups: Alcohol is available in Qatar, so whoever wants alcohol will definitely find it. Will it be as readily available and in every street corner No. But we also believe that the World Cup is not just a sporting event to cater to a specific demographic. We are a conservative culture, but a very welcoming culture. So this is an opportunity for people to get introduced to a culture and to experience it. If they want their beer, they can have their beer. On whether India (hosting the U-17 World Cup) can take a cue from Qatar You can’t compare the two. You can’t compare the investment in it, the focus, the visibility, the broadcast value on it. But of course, it is always a step. India hosted the Commonwealth Games and is big on cricket, so there’s a wealth of knowledge and experience there, which is transferable.

Location: India, Karnataka, Bengaluru