Every four years, soccer fans around the world revel in what has been called the biggest sporting event on the planet — the World Cup.
The 32-team, 2014 tournament in Brazil is less than two years away. Russia is next in 2018. In 2022, Qatar, an oil- and natural-gas-rich country with a population of less than 2 million, steps onto the global stage.
Will Qatar be ready? Does it have enough of a soccer pedigree to pull off a World Cup?
A number of factors help Qatar make its case, now and nine years down the road.
Teams in Qatar have attracted some big-name players from around the world, most near the end of their careers, attracted by one final big payday. The likes of Claudio Caniggia, Ali Daei, Fernando Hierro, Stefan Effenber, and Pep Guardiola prolonged their careers and feathered their bank accounts, for sure.
In 2011, Qatar hosted the Asian Cup (the region’s equivalent of the European Championships), a well-organized event that went off without any major glitches.
In commercial terms, Qatar has flexed its financial muscle in Europe: Barcelona wears the name of the Qatar Foundation on its jerseys; Qatar Airways sponsors Tottenham Hotspur; and Qataris have bought into some of Europe’s top leagues, acquiring Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Málaga.
Qatar is also home to the 2011 Asian club champion — Al-Sadd, which defeated Jeonbuk Motors of South Korea in a penalty kick shootout. Al-Sadd then won a match at the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup in Japan before being thrashed by Barcelona, 4-0. But Al-Sadd planted the Qatari flag, so to speak, among some of the world’s top clubs.
The negatives have been discussed since the day FIFA awarded the tournament for the first time to a Middle Eastern country: the oppressive temperatures in the summer, restrictions on the consumption of alcohol in a strict Muslim country, cultural and religious rules about the role and place of women in society, not to mention in the soccer stadiums.
Many issues have yet to be resolved: whether stadiums can be built and cooled to protect players and fans from the heat; whether the World Cup should be played in the summer or be moved, perhaps to January; whether the country can accommodate soccer fans used to drinking and openly displaying their passion for the game.
Do you think FIFA was right or wrong to award the tournament to Qatar? Was Qatar’s financial footprint pivotal in landing the World Cup? Will fans go there out of allegiance to their national teams or because Qatar seems like an interesting destination?