July 15, 2018 / 12:05 PM / 5 months ago

After Russia, World Cup focus now turns to Qatar

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Germany came out of its shell, South Africa exceeded expectations and Russia changed negative perceptions when they all hosted the World Cup but just what will unfold in four years’ time when the tournament goes to Qatar is anyone’s guess.

A mock-up of the World Cup is seen at a shop in Souk Waqif in Doha, Qatar July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari

There is only one certainty — it will be an event like no other.

The small gulf kingdom, which stretches only 180km from one end to the other, is unlike any previous host with little sporting tradition, a population of just over 2.5 millions, has never played at the World Cup and is so hot in the customary mid-year window for the tournament that it has moved towards the end of the year.

But what oil-rich Qatar does have is fabulous wealth, enough to persuade FIFA to allow them to host even though that selection process has since been clouded by allegations of bribery.

The first Arab country to host the event are planning eight new stadiums for the tournament, with one completed, two more due this year and the rest scheduled to be finished by 2021. None is more than 35km from the center of the capital Doha and all serviced by a brand new metro system.

Furious construction has led to allegations of exploitation of migrant workers building the new infra structure with human rights organizations condemning labor practices in the country.

“We are ready based on the path we have set,” said Hassan Al Thawadi, the secretary-general of the Qatar 2022 organizing committee, in Moscow with a delegation of more than 100 officials shadowing the Russians.

FIFA have confirmed that the tournament will be hosted from Nov. 21-Dec. 18, 2022, but whether it will be a 32-team event or expand to 48 remains to be decided.

“It will be a common decision taken between FIFA and Qatar and we are now studying the feasibility of expanding it to a 48-team World Cup. However, all preparations are on the basis of 32 teams,” Al Thawadi added.

Changing the timing of the tournament will disrupt major league seasons and has set FIFA on a collision course with the powerful European clubs but the Qataris are seeking to put a positive spin on the change, claiming it could lead to more exciting soccer.

“Players will be mid-season, not at the end of their seasons, at a time when they can be at their peak of their performance levels,” Al Thawadi said.

Qatar will also relax laws on the consumption of alcohol, planning areas for visiting fans where alcohol can be consumed to ensure they replicate the party atmosphere of past tournaments.

“We are well aware of the wonderful opportunity the World Cup presents to change opinions and deflect stereotypes. We will be a welcoming nation,” he added.

Editing by Amlan Chakraborty

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