Fatma Al Nuaimi, Director of Communications, Supreme Committee (SC) for Delivery and Legacy, constituted to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, spoke to The Sunday Guardian over email about a range of issues concerning the 2022 football World Cup. Excerpts:
Q. What does hosting the first ever FIFA World Cup in the Middle East mean for Qatar? What is Qatar’s vision behind the successful bid and the subsequent preparations for hosting the event?
A. For Qatar, hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup brings with it the unique chance to bring the world’s most followed single-sport event for the first time ever to the Middle East, a region that is passionate about football. Hosting the World Cup also places on Qatar the responsibility of bringing the competition for only the second time to Asia.
From the outset, Qatar’s 2022 hosting vision has focused on the country’s multi-pronged development. The strategic objective is to ensure the tournament serves as a catalyst for the country’s long-term sustainable development and its economic diversification goals. Sporting infrastructure built in Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will further Qatar’s position as a pan-Asian sporting destination
Q. With FIFA saying they will discuss with Qatar the possibility of raising the number of participating teams in 2022 from 32 to 48, is there any urgency in reviewing fans’ accommodation options? There are also reports that fans could be stationed in other countries of the region, such as Iran, between match days. How true are these reports? If true, will cities along the west coast of India—such as Goa and Mumbai—also figure in Qatar’s hosting plans?
A. The 2022 FIFA World Cup remains a 32-team tournament, and FIFA has said it will first consult with Qatar if there are any moves in the direction of increasing teams to 48. If and when that happens, we will first need to understand what would be the likely format before we review our accommodation options and other logistical or organisational aspects.
We have already worked out our 2022 accommodation options and we will be housing all the 1.5 million fans expected during the month-long tournament in Qatar. In addition to hotels ranging from 3 to 5 stars, we have developed innovative accommodation options such as cruise ships anchored off the Doha coast and desert camps, which will add to the overall fan experience. Apart from this, home stay options would also be introduced and the Indian community in Qatar has signed a memorandum of understanding with the SC to support us in all aspects related to the preparation and delivery of the World Cup.
Q. After the SC started its online volunteer registration programme, Indians emerged as the single biggest national group within two weeks from among the countries who have enlisted. This runs against the grain of the established notion that Indians come to work in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region exclusively for financial reasons. What are SC’s thoughts on this unique development?
A. Indian nationals signing up as volunteers in huge numbers does not come as a surprise to SC, since Indian professionals across diverse industries, specialisations and roles have played an enormous role in transforming Qatar into the futuristic economy that it is today. The SC is overwhelmed that Indian nationals have internalised the 2022 FIFA World Cup as their own tournament and are signing up in huge numbers for the online volunteer registration programme.
Q. In May, the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) opened its representative office in Mumbai. How important will be Indian tourists in Qatar’s scheme of things for 2022 considering that the World Cup host nation may lose out on fans from its two dominant GCC neighbours if political status quo prevails?
A. QTA is an important stakeholder of the SC and we are happy that they have opened an office in Mumbai. The films made in the city continue to entertain many Qataris and other Arab nationals resident in Qatar, along with the popularity of Indian cuisine.
India is also at the forefront of Asia’s economic growth. It is the continent’s third biggest economy and the youngest country in the world. We are also aware that a good number of Indian ticket holders and fans travelled to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and we are confident that many more Indians will be in Qatar in four years.
Last year, the State of Qatar issued visa on arrival for Indian nationals for a 30-day stay in the country. And according to the QTA’s Tourism Performance Report for the first quarter of 2018, there was an increase of 15% in the number of Indian tourists to Qatar since then.
Also, a recent industry survey has forecast that international tourist arrivals to Qatar will exceed 2.5 million by the end of 2021. The increase in the outflow of tourists from India, therefore, will sit well with the demand for them in Qatar.
Q. The SC has earlier said that costs for construction of tournament infrastructure have not escalated despite the ongoing economic blockade of Qatar by GCC neighbours led by Saudi Arabia. How has Qatar managed to procure construction material without escalation of costs? Has the new India shipping line helped?
A. All our projects remain on schedule and within budgets, despite the illegal economic blockade. We already had contingency plans ready since construction began in 2013 and these have been very effective. The spending on stadium infrastructure is projected to be around 23 billion Qatari Riyals.
The contingency plans included maximisation of the use of alternative shipping lines and air routes. The India Qatar Express Service is one of the many such alternative shipping routes which has helped us meet our goals. We have also developed effective shipping lines between ASEAN countries such as Malaysia and Singapore and also between China.
Q. There is not much of a gap currently between the national teams of Qatar and India on the FIFA rankings. Will hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup help the development of Qatar football?
A. The hosting of the World Cup will leave a legacy in football development as well. The Qatar Football Association (QFA), one of SC’s fellow stakeholders, has already set in place structures and processes for football talent to blossom at all age-group levels. These plans have already started bearing dividends for the U-23 and senior national teams. Qatar finished third in the AFC U-23 Championships in China in January this year.
The inspirational element which comes with the sheer magnitude of hosting an epochal event such as the World Cup will also do wonders for football in Qatar. The SC and QFA are confident that the 2022 World Cup will fire the imagination of generations of Qatar’s future footballers and take the country to its goal of being one of the top four Asian footballing nations.