After the “great success” of the FIFA Club World Cup where Liverpool clinched the hard-fought match against Flamengo 1-0 in Doha on Saturday (December 21), the man in charge of organising the 2022 World Cup in Qatar labelled it as a test event.
Hassan al Thawadi, secretary-general of the supreme committee for the World Cup, admitted that the Gulf state has plenty still to learn over the next three years leading up to the controversial tournament.
“Our plans were previously theoretical and today they are being applied on the ground. Overall I think the Club World Cup has been a great success as a test event,” Al Thawadi told media ahead of the Club World Cup finale.
He also insisted that the tiny country will be able to handle an influx of huge numbers of supporters and sought to reassure fans used to western culture that they will be made to feel welcome.
“There are three more years to go to learn, so I have no doubt that by 2022 we will be ready,” he added while speaking at Education City, one of eight proposed venues for 2022.
The 40,000-seat stadium — which will be partially dismantled after 2022 — was due to be inaugurated during the Club World Cup, but delays postponed its opening.
In contrast, the city’s sparkling new metro network has performed well after fully opening earlier this month. Crowds of exuberant fans of Flamengo, Esperance or Liverpool armed with free tickets have rubbed shoulders with Qataris and expat commuters on the plush system.
Not so hot
While the metro, and the streets above, have hardly been overcrowded, it may be a different story in the city come the World Cup, with organisers expecting at least 1.2 million supporters in Doha in 2022.
“We are building the capacity necessary so that by 2022 we have that in place, we are improving our efficiency in terms of transportation, ensuring there is enough fan engagement events, and so on, spread throughout the country, so there is no congestion in one place,” said Al Thawadi.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino — who inherited the decision to hand the tournament to Qatar from predecessor Sepp Blatter — is upbeat about preparations, with Qatar also staging the recent Gulf Cup and hosting next year’s Club World Cup.
“These are small events but important events,” he said, adding: “The state of advancement of the work here is unique.”
Elsewhere, traffic remains congested on Doha’s roads, and authorities have announced plans to resurrect the Sharq Crossing, a mega-project that will use bridges and tunnels to link the airport, financial district and tourist attractions, bypassing the often gridlocked coast road.
Organisers have tested a 5,000-capacity fan zone where supporters have been able to enjoy a drink in a country where alcohol is not readily available.
There has also been concern about how LGBT fans will be welcomed, although Paul Amann, of Liverpool’s LGBT supporters’ club, Kop Outs, told AFP he was “satisfied their approach is to provide an ‘everyone is welcome’ ethos that does include respect, albeit through privacy.”
Al Thawadi stuck to that theme as he insisted all fans would be welcome, but admitted: “Public displays of affection, regardless of sexual orientation, are not part of our culture and we ask people to respect that fact.”
This Club World Cup has also confirmed that fans need not worry about temperatures after the highly controversial decision to move the competition from its usual June-July slot to the end of the year — after hosting rights had been awarded.
On the day of Liverpool’s semi-final against Monterrey, exactly three years before the World Cup final, the cool and damp conditions were a marked contrast with what was first feared.
But as Qatar learns about how to be a good host, with the many issues surrounding the awarding of the tournament in the first place, it will struggle to win people over.
“The organisation has been good but it is not a football country and the World Cup, with all respect, should be in a country that loves football,” said Flamengo coach Jorge Jesus.
(With inputs from agencies)