“In dreams begin responsibilities,” wrote the famous Irish poet WB Yeats. Literary works, just like music and other forms of art, are immortal. They remain relevant for decades and centuries. I was reminded of these lines when I recently visited Doha, the capital of the Arab nation Qatar. This country has been harbouring a dream for more than a decade, which is to charm a global audience when it hosts the FIFA World Cup in the last two months of 2022. It truly is an onerous responsibility and the small peninsular nation is putting its best foot forward to make this sporting extravaganza a success.
The Dress Rehearsal
The occasion for our visit was the Lusail Super Cup, in many ways a final dress rehearsal to check Qatar’s readiness to host the World Cup. The match between the reigning league champions of Saudi Arabia (Al Hilal) and Egypt (Zamalek) was held at the Lusail Stadium, the venue for the final of the World Cup on December 18. The stadium, which can host 80,000 spectators, was choc-a-bloc as fans drove in from neighbouring Saudi Arabia and other middle-eastern countries, along with international journalists and top delegates of football’s governing body.
The event helped the organisers test not just the facilities at the stadium but also their transport system, which includes a newly built state-of-the-art metro rail, that is expected to bear the burden of facilitating communication when more than two million fans visit the country in around ten weeks’ time.
The stadium in itself is a work of art. Its design is inspired by the interplay of light and shadow that characterises the ‘fanar’ lantern. Its shape and facade echo the intricate decorative motifs on bowls and other vessels characteristic of the golden age of art and craftsmanship in the Arab and Islamic world.
Ever since the 2022 FIFA World Cup rights were awarded to Qatar in 2010, there has been a lot of criticism and scrutiny. But with the event just days away, the organisers are hoping to change the perception of the world.
“Journalists and members of the media know that Qatar has been facing a lot of criticism from the beginning. We have always maintained the fact that those who have not visited Qatar will have a different perception when they do visit Qatar,” Nasser Al-Khater, CEO of FIFA World Cup 2022, said in a press conference ahead of the Lusail Super Cup.
“We believe that lot of the criticism has been unfair and based not on factual reality. Whatever we thought was fair criticism we have taken on board. Qatar has developed a lot in the last 10 years and this has led to significant changes that Qatar is proud of today,” he added.
One of the biggest question marks was about the climate as players could struggle on the field despite the temperatures staying in the mid-20 degrees (celsius) in the winter months. But those fears have been allayed as the stadiums have been equipped with an air-conditioning system that will keep the playing area as well as the stands cool. We encountered this first hand during the Lusail Super Cup, and the experience was quite comfortable on a night when heat and humidity was extreme.
The other big concern for travelling fans was about the availability of alcohol during the event as drinking in public areas is not permitted in Qatar. The organisers fielded a lot of questions on the alcohol policy for the tournament and they informed that sale of beer will be permitted in select areas, which include the ‘fan zones’. But they also informed that no one could bring in alcohol into the country from outside.
“I think alcohol will not allowed through the airport and suitcases. There are locations where alcohol will be sold throughout the country,” Colonel Jassim Abdulrahim Al Sayed from the Safety and Security Operations Committee said.
With an eye on families, the organisers also informed that the main fan zone will allow sale of alcohol after 6:30 pm.
“We are working like any other World Cup, like usual.
“Very simply, we have always stated that the sale of alcohol available in Qatar and will make it available in specific zones.
“The fan fest will serve from 6:30pm, but it will attract a lot of families and children and we want to give them opportunity to be in alcohol-free zone for certain parts of the day. Later, the fans will have alcohol readily available,” CEO Al-Khater said.
While the World Cup is definitely a momentous occasion for Qatar and Qataris, it is in fact just a stepping stone for the country. They plan to use this event as a launch pad to pitch Qatar as a major tourist destination.
Doha as a city is an amalgamation of the ancient Bedouin traditions and modern day architecture and living. On one hand tourists and fans will be floored by the futuristic architecture of the many skyscrapers, they will also be transported to medieval times when they step into the narrow by lanes of the old marketplace, the Souq Wakif.
The West Bay that edges the Persian Gulf is home to resorts and hotels and their little marinas, which provide a luxurious escape and has several restaurants where tourists can sample the local cuisine.
The desert provides camping and camel riding attractions while a ride on the dhow boats at sunset could be a perfect way to unwind for the visitors.
The National Museum, housed in a building that is inspired by the intricate design of a desert rose crystal found in Qatar, is an architectural marvel from the outside. The museum itself is a repository of abundant information about the country’s history and its achievements and presents all of it in an interactive manner.
The 3-2-1 Sports Museum is another fantastic place to visit especially for sports fans. It currently houses the Olympic torches and memorabilia from 100 well known sports stars, which include Indian legends Major Dhyan Chand, Sachin Tendulkar and MC Mary Kom.
All in all, Qatar is opening its arms and asking the world to come experience its unique culture and landscape when it hosts the FIFA World Cup.