DOHA: In six years’ time fans from across the world will be attending the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar . . . and Nasser Al Khater, assistant secretary-general for tournament affairs at the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, can hardly believe how fast time has flown since the initial hosting award in December 2010.
How significant is this moment, to be half-way there to hosting the tournament?
It’s hard to believe that six years have already gone by from the time Qatar won the right to host the World Cup. Just as we imagined and said from day one, the first World Cup in the Middle East and Arab world will allow a lot of fans to witness the region for the first time.
People will be introduced to a new culture, new traditions, an area of the world which is vibrant and rich in culture. This will be one of the most unique World Cups ever, not just because of the compact nature of the tournament, but because of what the region has to offer.
We’re happy with where we are.
Every year when we celebrate the bid anniversary of the World Cup, to us who have been working on this project for the State of Qatar it is a great moment, a moment of celebration and recognising the achievement that Qatar has made in relation to world football. At the six year mark, we’re proud of where we are and the work we’ve done so far.
What are the main areas of progress?
We’re very proud of where we are in terms of stadium preparations as the Supreme Committee, responsible for delivering all of the stadiums and training sites and all the requirements for the World Cup.
But we’re also very proud of our stakeholders, the public works authority that are delivering all of the highways and the roads that are going to be necessary for an incredible and successful World Cup.
Also our partners for the Doha Metro at Qatar Rail, our partners at Hamad International Airport, who will be building the expansion to the beautiful airport, all of us together are building the requirements for the World Cup, and we’re very proud of where we are.
How have you dealt with the challenges along the way? What is your message to the critics?
Challenges have been there from the beginning. As with any World Cup organisers, there will always be challenges.
If you talk about critics, there have been critics from the day we were bidding, and there were critics from the day we won.
Qataris by nature are resilient and can endure. We’ve listened to our critics and we’ve answered our critics. I think it’s time now for our critics to listen to us.
I think that in 2022, when the world descends on Qatar to watch the World Cup here, our critics will be proven wrong.
All mega events attract criticism. Have I been surprised at times at the severity? Yes. But it doesn’t concern me what the motive is, what concerns me is that we deliver on our promises and ensure that we deliver a unique and enjoyable World Cup.
You’ve continuously engaged local and regional communities to include them in preparations. How important is that support to you?
It is imperative to have the support of the local and regional communities. We believe this World Cup is for them, this World Cup is not only for Qatar, it is for the football community and football lovers and fans of the region.
We’ve continuously had programmes engaging them. We make sure the communities which have stadiums nearby are engaged, and we asked them what kind of facilities they feel are necessary, what kind of services they need.
We have been able to provide a lot of what they requested into the stadiums and precincts. Regionally we’ve engaged a lot of fans through football tournaments, as a way of using football as a platform to pass on the messages of this regional World Cup.
Workers’ welfare remains a topic of top priority to the SC. Do you see this as a key legacy component of what this World Cup will do for the region?
Absolutely. Progress on workers’ welfare, not just in the Supreme Committee but within the country as a whole, has taken great strides forward. We’ve seen the benefits that our workers’ welfare standards have had for workers, and other organisations have recognised these benefits by instituting similar standards into their contracts.
We see that progress taking shape on the ground, and others have followed suit. By mid-December 2016, Qatar is going to announce the new labour law. The focus on improving and developing workers’ welfare and rights has had tangible benefits.
In terms of player development, Qatar’s younger generation of players like Akram Afif have started playing in places like Spain, Belgium and Scotland. Do you think players are benefiting from the 2022 effect?
The fact that the World Cup is being staged in your backyard and your country adds a certain emotional motivation.
Let’s not forget that the QFA and Aspire have for a long time been working on developing athletes and football players, and they have a lot of credit to be given for the way these youngsters have progressed.
This is why youngsters like Akram Afif have been in La Liga and others in Belgium and in Europe. The World Cup is a big propellant for these players, and everybody wants to be playing in the World Cup in their own country.
This year has also seen the start of a more in-depth relationship with India after a contractor from the country began work on Al Rayyan Stadium. How important is India in the years leading up to 2022?
The relationship between India and Qatar goes beyond football, it goes back decades.
The Indian population and community has been an integral part of society for decades in Qatar, and has helped build this country and make it what it is today. The final of the AFC Cup in Doha recently showed the level of participation and fan engagement, and displayed the passion India has for football.
India has made a lot of effort in developing football, their league, and I see that India will be a force in the Asian continent when it comes to football. They will host the Under 17 World Cup next year, there is also the intention to host an Under-20 World Cup, so there is a real interest and intention to make India a footballing nation.
I would say good luck to the Indian national team for 2022, and there are a lot of Indian expatriates from the region who will be interested to attend games here, as well as people flying from India. I say to them, welcome, our doors are open.
Finally, looking at the preparations as a football match, we’ve now reached half-time. What do you say to your team in the dressing room ahead of the second 45 minutes?
I think as a coach I’d be very proud of the team, and commend them on a job well done, the team being the entire nation.
The focus was high in the first half, but let’s not forget there’s another 45 minutes where we need to maintain the momentum, and we need to be as resilient and endure as much as we have in the past. If we do that, we should rest assured that we’ll get a positive result.