The tiny Gulf nation of Qatar is bidding to host the football World Cup in 2022, aiming to be the first Arab and Middle Eastern nation to host the prestigious tournament. Qatar will be contesting more established footballing nations, such as England, Spain, the Netherlands, and Russia.
The plan is an ambitious one, revealing the aspirations of this energetic country, and has received some backing from FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, who said that , “the Arabic [sic] world deserves a World Cup.” He also praised the infrastructure, “when you are able to organise the Asian Games with more than 30 events for men and women, then it (infrastructure) is not in question.”
The drawbacks of a Qatari tournament have apparently been tackled. Hosting a sporting event, at the height of summer, in a desert state, might not be a good idea. The Qataris have the solution of course, solar energy will be converted into electricity, which will then be used to cool the stadium. When matches are not being played, the electricity generated will be fed into the national grid. You have to applaud them for their ingenuity.
Social considerations have also been taken into account, alcohol will be allowed to be consumed in this conservative Muslim nation, but only in specific fan zones. In the unlikely event of Israel qualifying (they have only qualified once, in 1970), Qatar has stated that it will allow Israeli participation.
Added to this, state of the art stadiums will be built, that will compete with the world’s best. FIFA would not have to worry about the stadiums not being completed, money is simply not an issue.
Yet, despite all this, I just cannot throw myself behind this bid.
If the bid were to be successful, this would be, as Sepp Blatter has said, the first World Cup in an Arab country. One of the aims of the bid is supposed to be the promotion of Arab unity, and as a tournament for all Arabs to be proud of.
I’m sorry, but the first Arab World Cup needs to be in a country that actually has footballing heritage. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt all spring to mind. Even Saudi Arabia, minus the overwhelming cultural issues that would have to be faced.
The Arab aim would be to present itself as a serious footballing region, Qatar simply is not. It is embarrassing to watch some of the Qatari league matches, forget about the quality of football, and look at the stands. Giant stadiums, and yet there are barely any fans inside. Now compare this to any of the countries I have previously mentioned, clubs have dedicated mass fan bases, and long histories. Looking beyond the Arab powerhouses, we see countries like Syria, Sudan, and Jordan, both of which have leagues which attract far more fans than Qatar could ever dream of.
It can be argued that this is due to the size of Qatar, and its population. But this is exactly my point. Qatar is not representative, in terms of football, of the Arab world as a whole. Therefore, it is absurd to think that they can represent, to the rest of the world, the Arab nation.
Qatar lives up to many of the Arab stereotypes that the rest of the world sees. Oil rich men, who throw their money around. Of course, this is a stereotype, and Qatar, and the rest of the Gulf region, is an area of deep history and culture. Unfortunately, in the world of football, they have done little to dispel this notion. All that most of the world knows of Qatari football, is that it is a retirement home for European and South American footballers, looking for a final pay day. Think of Gabriel Batistuta a few years ago. Having the first Arab World Cup in a more established footballing nation would enable the world to learn of the great traditions of Ahly and Zamalek in Egypt, or Raja Casablanca in Morocco.
Other Gulf nations have not been helping. I may be biased, but the transfer policy of Manchester City’s Emirati owners, ‘buy any player that looks good on YouTube,’ is extremely frustrating. The flow of ageing stars going to the Gulf has also increased, this summer Al-Ahly Dubai signed Fabio Cannavaro. More will probably come, seeking that final pay day.
This is not an attack on Qatar, or the Gulf. I am of Yemeni origin; it can be argued that Yemen does have at least more of a footballing culture than the Gulf states, but I would still say it is nowhere near the level required for a World Cup. I would love to see the Arab world host a World Cup, but Qatar is simply not the place where it should be.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East