DOHA: Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary-general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, has set out the case for the Gulf state’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup in this extensive in-house interview:
Seven years from now Qatar will be getting ready to host the World Cup Final; do you still feel the same sense of pride as you did five years ago when the bid was won?
Yes, absolutely. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that intensity of feeling will linger – especially five years later – but there is no question people are still excited about what lies ahead.
We spend a huge amount of time working with all of our stakeholders and our communities as we prepare for 2022.
We do this to make sure we communicate the benefits of this tournament, to ensure people understand why this will be so special for them and Qatar.
What’s really exciting is you can see the closer we get, the stronger that feeling will return. When Qatar won the bid it was difficult to imagine that feeling of euphoria could be beaten.
Five years later, the prospect of a World Cup in Qatar can’t even be described.
From the highs of that moment, there have been some lows. How have you dealt with the level of criticism Qatar has faced since that day?
We always expected criticism. There isn’t a single major sporting event in the world that doesn’t go through that journey, but I think ours has been particularly intense.
We became the victim of a campaign that singled out Qatar and our successful bid without any shred of evidence. We’ve had to live with that for five years but there has still been no evidence to suggest our Bid Committee did anything wrong.
With the FBI and Swiss Attorney General carrying out their investigations, does it concern you that evidence that implicates Qatar may still emerge?
I think if you examine it closely you can see these investigations focus on individuals, not a young, hard-working bid committee from Qatar.
What is your reaction to the latest statement from US Attorney General Loretta Lynch?
It is important to contextualize the comments of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, hoping for Qatar’s co-operation, if required, in the investigations being undertaken by American and Swiss authorities.
This was a direct response to a question from Ms. Lynch’s audience specifically referring to Qatar, rather than the Attorney General stating this of her own volition.
We have not been contacted by the US Department of Justice or the office of the Swiss Attorney General in relation to their investigations.
We cooperated fully with Michael Garcia’s Ethics Committee investigation and intend to do the same should there be any request from the American or Swiss authorities.
We maintain that we conducted our bid ethically and with integrity, strictly adhering to all rules and regulations of the 2018-2022 FIFA World Cup bidding process.
We strongly believe that hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup in the Middle East is more necessary than ever considering the global political climate.
People from all corners of the world will come together on Arab soil, to celebrate and enjoy the world’s greatest sporting event and we consider this a precious opportunity to enhance cultural understanding between people of different cultures and backgrounds, uniting through a shared passion for football.
When you look back at the scrutiny of the last few years, can you say leading the preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ is something you have enjoyed?
This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s an honour to be in this position as we prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East.
There is nothing in the world that unites people the way football does. It builds bridges, it brings people closer to each other.
When you look at some of the issues the world is facing right now this World Cup has never been more important. There have been some difficult times over the last few years but when you look at everything we have achieved it has been worth every second.
What are some of those preparations? What have been the bright spots for the Supreme Committee?
One of the most pleasing aspects is that the promises we made during the bid are already being delivered.
We stood up in front of the world and promised this tournament would leave a true legacy – and that’s proving to be the case. We’re delivering on our stadiums, first and foremost.
Six proposed stadiums for the tournament are under construction right now, with more to follow. We are on track with all of them and are happy with our progress.
It’s not just about the stadiums though. We knew the opportunity to host the World Cup would give us the opportunity to contribute to the social legacy of Qatar.
We set out a very clear mandate for ourselves to help accelerate the Qatar National Vision 2030.
The foundations to achieve this have been laid through strategic programmes designed to benefit the people of this region.
We launched Challenge 22 this year, an initiative which focused on some of the brightest minds in the region. We ran a competition that offered entrepreneurs and inventors the chance to see their ideas come to life as part of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
This initiative will continue to get bigger and better.
We continue to support the Josoor Institute, an educational programme that partners with some of the best universities and sports industry experts to deliver educational programme that will help create a fully-fledged sports industry in Qatar.
We started by inviting students from all around the region to our courses in Doha and recently expanded by taking our first events to Jordan.
It’s an amazing programme that will cultivate not only the people who will help deliver 2022, but will remain as a legacy capable of delivering future events.
We have built on our success with Generation Amazing, our main Corporate Social Responsibility Programme. Generation Amazing uses the power of football to deliver generational change in countries and communities that need it the most.
From Jordan, to Pakistan and Nepal, we’re striving to make a difference with initiatives such as installing football pitches or coaching clinics in the communities. I believe we are succeeding.
One area of criticism Qatar and the SC suffers from is labour issues. Are you comfortable the relevant parties are doing everything possible to accelerate a solution to these issues?
Both the SC and the government are taking the right steps to deliver a sustainable solution to the challenges faced in Qatar.
No-one in Qatar denies these challenges exist, but we must be allowed to find an answer that works for a country which experienced unprecedented economic growth which gave Qatar an immense opportunity but also a great sense of responsibility.
The government recently demonstrated their commitment with the announcement of labour reforms, which shows the determination to use this tournament as a catalyst for social progress.
These reforms may not be coming quick enough for some people but our focus is on sustainable change. There will inevitably be a lot of noise surrounding the way those changes are implemented, but Qatar is committed to progressing.
In the meantime people continue to question safety record, claiming people are losing their lives on World Cup Stadiums. What do you say to that?
That’s simply something that is not true. In more than 14 million man hours worked the SC has not experienced one single fatality on site. Our Workers’ Welfare Standards ensure the highest level of health and safety on all of our stadiums.
The welfare of our workers is of paramount importance and we simply do not compromise our high standards. I just wish the same could be said of some of the media outlets who report these false claims.
It’s difficult to talk about the World Cup without mentioning FIFA. Does the uncertainty at FIFA concern you? Are you worried Qatar will lose the World Cup?
Absolutely not. What is happening at FIFA is a completely separate issue compared to Qatar’s right to host the World Cup, which people will hopefully start to realise.
The Supreme Committee, much like football fans, players and clubs around the world, is committed to working towards a game that is played and managed in a fair and transparent manner and we welcome the reforms FIFA has proposed.
How has the level of interest and participation in football changed across the country since it won the 2022 bid five years ago?
The Middle East has always been crazy about football. Despite popular belief, we have a rich football history. Since winning the bid what’s been evident is the focus on the national team and the progress or younger players are making.
You can see that from the U-19s first ever Asian title in their age category to the senior team’s triumph of the 2014 Gulf Cup in Saudi Arabia.
The focus isn’t simply on elite footballers though. Not every player will make the grade, so there has also been a focus on developing a grassroots football infrastructure for the country.
The purest example of this is the number of young soccer schools established for children in Qatar.
One of the developments we are proud of is the creation of the Qatar Amateur League – an initiative which was a bid promise. Now in its third year, the QAL offers amateur footballers the chance to play the game they love in professional surroundings.
They train and play in the stadiums of the Qatar Stars League and it’s been a huge success. We also support the Workers’ Cup, a tournament that offers blue-collar workers the same opportunity – to play football in professional surroundings.
Coupled with the schools and universities leagues, participation in Qatar is huge and is only going to grow.
Do you worry the negativity surrounding Qatar and the World Cup will strain relationships with your neighbours, who may regret having the spotlight shone upon them?
Not in the slightest, in fact I believe the opposite is true. If you look at the comments of the GCC Council in the last few days you get a sense of the support Qatar has from the other countries in the Gulf.
The Gulf Co-operation Council has made its support for Qatar perfectly clear on numerous occasions, so their statement last week wasn’t a surprise. It reinforced the fact this World Cup is for the entire Middle East – not just for Qatar.
It’s been five years already. What will the next five years hold?
We’re thinking about the next seven years, not just the next five. We’ve achieved a lot since 2010 but the hard work is only just beginning, believe me.
Hopefully with the same level of commitment and desire from all of our staff and stakeholders the next seven years will see us deliver an amazing tournament and leave a legacy the entire country can be proud of.
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