Ashraf Ali Siddiqui talks about an iconic event
Finally, the kicked off Qatar Football World Cup after plenty of anticipation amidst plenty of bad blood that witnessed a barrage of criticism over its treatment of foreign workers, LGBT rights and social restrictions, staking its reputation on delivering a smooth tournament. Qatar has worked very hard to win the approval for hosting the World Cup though it had no pedigree or track record for the game of football. Awarding such a prestigious event to Qatar was also criticised on the grounds that the hot weather in Qatar has compelled the tournament to be shifted to winter months that is the peak season for football in Europe and the shift has completely disrupted the season.
Most problematic aspect was the frequent allegations of corruption in respect of awarding the Cup to Qatar and the investigations are ongoing and no one knows what could be the consequences of any adverse result thereof. Previous instances are proof enough that consequences are pretty serious and they reverberate far long into future.
The inauguration was a diplomatic triumph for Qatar as Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was flanked by the powerful Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the powerful Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, presidents of Egypt, Turkey and Algeria, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General among other leaders in attendance in a tent-shaped stadium ahead of the first match between the hosts and Ecuador.
Qatar, which has denied accusations of abuse of workers and discrimination, and FIFA hope the spotlight will now turn to act on the pitch. Organisers have also denied allegations of bribery for hosting rights. Inside Al Bayt Stadium many seats were still vacant with gridlock on the expressway leading to the arena, where cheers went up as Qatar’s team appeared for their opening match.
The football tournament, the first held in the Middle East and the most expensive in its history, is a culmination of Qatar’s soft power push, after a 3-1/2 year boycott by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain which ended in 2021. The UAE, whose rapprochement with Doha has been slower than that of Riyadh and Cairo, sent its vice president who is also the ruler of Dubai, where many World Cup fans have opted to stay.
Gas exporter Qatar is the smallest nation to host football’s biggest global event. Crowd control will be key with some 1.2 million visitors expected more than a third of its population. All 32 teams competing at the World Cup have now arrived, with five-time champions Brazil the last to touch down in Doha. It is widely accepted the Gulf state has spent $200 billion on hosting football’s biggest event. Organisers say that 2.9 million of the 3.1 million tickets have been sold and they will be expecting a 60,000 sell-out. TW