Sunday was a proud moment for Qatar in their journey to become the first Arabic country in history to host the FIFA World Cup as the unique design for the spectacular Lusail stadium, the venue for the opening ceremony and the World Cup final, was unveiled.
It was the eighth stadium design to be unveiled by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy with construction work for the 80,000-capacity stadium set to be completed as early as 2020.
The nation has come a long way since 2010 when it won the bid to host the 2022 edition of the global showpiece. From the very start of that journey, Qatar’s bid to hold football’s biggest event has invited its detractors with doubts being raised over the country’s capability to host an event of this magnitude.
The doubts have ranged from the temperatures to the lack of Qatar being a footballing nation. That it will be the first ever World Cup to be hosted in the winter has raised plenty of eyebrows as well.
However, gradually and slowly, these doubts have started to be erased with Qatar proving its detractors wrong with every passing step towards 2022.
Eight years since winning the bid, the message from Hassan Al Thawadi, the Secretary General of the Supreme Committee, was clear.
“We want them to delve beyond the misconceptions perpetrated to divide East and West and experience the richness of our culture, the warmth of our hospitality and our humanity all the while celebrating our love of football together,” he had stated at the opening of the 38th session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in Geneva last June.
Despite the constant barrage of criticism directed towards them, the Supreme Committee and Qatar have taken it all in their strides. With the discussion surrounding the country’s preparation for the event turning a lot more positive of late, Al Thawadi could not be prouder.
For him, hosting an event like the World Cup is a vessel to effect a change which goes beyond the boundaries of just football.
“I mean there were a lot of misconceptions about Qatar for the simple fact that we are not a footballing nation. Still there are a lot of people today that have this misconception. But we have changed some hearts and minds, and that shows that we are on the right path,” he said in an exclusive chat with Goal .
“I keep saying, it was something like we committed to change, the state of Qatar committed to change. We saw the World Cup as a catalyst to achieve this change. We suffered a lot of criticism, some of it was constructive criticism which we welcomed.
“However, others were unfounded criticisms, based on misinformation. Today, our most ardent of critics have recognised the work that we have been doing and the positive steps that we are making. Which means that some hearts and minds have changed. Not only have they changed as a result of knowing us, but also on the results of the changes that they have seen on the grounds,” Al Thawadi continued.
Having met fans from all over the world in his travels of late including the FIFA 2018 World Cup in Russia, Al Thawadi is confident that fans from across the globe have wholeheartedly embraced the idea of Qatar hosting the event. He believes that it is a testament to Qatar’s rapid progress over the last few years.
“I believe we are on that path (of dispelling the doubts over Qatar). We are absolutely on that path. It is not been an easy journey. If you ask me percentage wise, I cannot answer you. What I can tell you from gradually meeting people from all over the world now,” explained.
“When I was in Russia, I met a lot of fans whether they were from Mexico, Colombia, from Argentina. Whenever I told them I was from Qatar, the excitement that they had, the passion and the eagerness was clear! One of them even told me that he will start saving for the next four years the moment he got back home for the World Cup in Qatar. So, no doubt that we are making progress.”
Al Thawadi goes on to stress that Qatar have overcome whatever challenges that have been thrown at them in this journey. "Qatar is doing it the hard way. Qatar as a country, as a community has always faced challenges and obstacles. We have always overcome them.
"Actually, we have not overcome them, but we have utilized them to our benefit to improve Every crisis that we have faced, the Supreme Committee or the country as a whole or different sectors, they were able to come together and utilize this as an excellent opportunity, use it as a stepping stone to moving forward. This is a quality that we are very proud of – perseverance, tenacity, a commitment and a belief more importantly in a bigger vision that we are trying to deliver."
Four years still remain for Qatar’s tryst with destiny but judging the confidence exuded by Al Thawadi, fans can expect the 2022 edition to be one of the biggest spectacles ever seen in the tournament’s history.