Qatar’s preparations for hosting the 2022 football World Cup are not being hindered by a blockade imposed on it by some of its Gulf neighbours amid a major diplomatic crisis, according to the head of the tournament’s organising committee.
Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary-general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said despite the unilateral action by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, as well as Egypt, who have severed ties with Doha, the Gulf state is on track to organise global football’s mega event.
“I think it’s a testimony to the resilience of the state of Qatar and the people of Qatar in terms of being able to overcome such an obstacle,” he told Al Jazeera on Friday.
“And now we are focusing on the delivery, which is coming along very well,” he added, speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss city of Davos. “The projects in the pipeline are on schedule and we are ready to deliver and host the world in 2022.”
Qatar beat bid rivals Australia, Japan, South Korea and the US in 2010 to claim the hosting rights, becoming the first Arab country to do so.
One of its stated aims was to create a legacy for the Middle East, but in June 2017, its Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut all political, diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, imposing a land, sea and air embargo on the peninsula.
The quartet accuses Qatar of supporting “terrorism” and destabilising the region, charges Doha has consistently denied.
“We’ve always said that this World Cup is a regional tournament, it’s a tournament for the people of the region…. and we are working very hard to ensure that the people of the region benefit from it,” Thawadi reiterated.
‘Benefits beyond Qatar’
Qatar’s national team is currently in the UAE for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, where it qualified for the semi-finals for first time after a stunning upset victory over two-time champions South Korea.
Thawadi said hosting the World Cup in three year’s time will not only invigorate the young national team but will have a “knock-on” effect on the region as a whole, economically and socially.
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“We are working very hard to capture as much as possible the benefits so that they are felt beyond the state of Qatar – in the Middle East and the Arab world,” he said.
Preparations are under way in the country, with seven new state-of-the-art stadiums with advanced open-air cooling technology being built from scratch for the tournament.
But FIFA has said it is considering expanding the 2022 event from 32 to 48 teams with the possibility of Doha sharing the tournament with some other Gulf nations.
A final decision over the feasibility of the expansion is expected at the FIFA Council meeting in Miami in March.
Qatar has come under increasing scrutiny over its treatment of migrant workers, with rights groups expressing concern about the safety of workers building the football stadiums.
To date, there have been three work-related fatalities and nine non-work related deaths of workers engaged in the construction of Qatar’s World Cup stadiums, according to the tournament organisers.
Thawadi said “significant progress” has been made in protecting workers’ welfare, but “more work needs to be done”.
“I don’t think any nation can rest on its laurels and say that everything has been done in relation to labour reforms and the state of Qatar is no different.”
In 2017, the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO) dismissed all complaints lodged against Qatar after the government approved a new draft bill introducing a minimum wage and legal protection for the foreign workforce.
Qatar is breaking tradition with a winter kick-off as it looks to avoid the scorching summer heat.
The tournament will begin on November 21, 2022, with the final played on December 18.