Joxer Goes to Doha; World Cup Heads to the Middle East.

QATAR is the Athlone of the world. To the east; the bustling mass of the Asian economies (aka Dublin); to the west, the mix of cultures, tradition, and trendiness of Europe (Galway). Yet just as the ramshackle St. Mel’s Park football grounds was replaced with the Athlone Town stadium, the Arab state boasts a growing network of state-of-the art sports facilities and, after today’s announcement in Zurich, the world is invited to play ball here in 2022.

From day one of the South African edition of the World Cup, it was evident that the tournament was not about one host nation, but about the emergence of the African continent.

FIFA’s fervent backing of this philosophy would seem to have augered well for Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 tournament, a first for the Middle-East. Of course the fact that both the Russian and Qatar proposals were backed by multi-billion dollar budgets might have had something to do with it, but FIFA only interested in money? Surely not.

The World Cup in the Arab state promises an intriguing mix of history, culture, and innovative technology that could promise a tournament like never before.

Yet, the biggest obstacle is the extreme weather conditions. During June and July the highest average daytime temperature is over 40°C. However, even that can be overcome according to the organisers.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the 2022 Qatar bid chairman, has promised venues with cooling technology capable of reducing temperatures by up to 20 degrees.

In much the same way that FIFA embraced South Africa’s hosting of the tournament as a competition for the entire continent, Qatar is trumpeting the opportunity to unify all Arab nations and welcome the western world.

While security issues would undoubtedly arise, Qatar is determined to place itself as a prominent tourist destination with multi-billion euro investment in the industry. The authorities see the influx of World Cup visitors as a crucial marketing tool.

However, there’s no doubt the customs and traditions of Qatar will provide the main talking points.

With a population of just over 1.3 million, the majority of this conservative society is Muslim and while hospitality towards visitors is part of their life-blood, a World Cup presents a fascinating and possibly problematic clashing of cultures. Attitudes to dress and alcohol would seem in stark contrast to what the World Cup generally entails. Allah help them if Ireland make it to the party.

Qatar already has a growing foreign population with an increase in beach resorts and international hotel developments. Oil workers first brought football to the region, but passion for the game is growing with modern facilities attracting touring clubs and the renowned ASPIRE Academy for Sports Excellence symbolising Qatar’s international ambitions.

The region’s wealth has also attracted players at the end of their careers such as Romario, Marcel Desailly, Christophe Dugarry and the De Boer brothers to local club sides.

Doha’s Khalifa Stadium played host to a friendly between England and Brazil last year and Qatar will be the venue for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Additionally, in an effort to appeal to FIFA’s emphasis on a lasting legacy, the organising committee have pledged to disassemble the upper tiers of the host stadiums and donate them to countries with less developed sports infrastructure.

Qatar’s ultra-modern football stadiums have an average capacity of 30,000, but they rarely attract crowds remotely near that number. That could all be about to change.

World Cup Qatar 2022 will mark where East meets West, not just in footballing terms. Will these vastly different cultures and nationalities come together in a spirit of sportsmanship or are the challenges insurmountable? As ever, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Original version published in YBIG Fanzine.

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