FIFA awarding the World Cup to Qatar in 2022 has certainly caught the imagination of the footballing public. For the first time ever the competition will make its way to the Middle East, where a vast untapped footballing community awaits with baited breath.
Jon Sinigaglia was Project Director for the FIFA pre-qualification bid inspection of Qatar and was an integral member of their winning bid team.
Here he exclusively answers my questions about Qatar’s plans, ambitions, and ability to host such a prestigious tournament and about the legacy they wish to leave behind.
These replies are Jon’s personal responses from his unique position as Project Director for FIFA’s inspection and bidding team member. They do not represent any official response from the Qatar FA or any other official body.
WG- Temperature (mean temp for June is 40C) has already raised itself as one of the biggest issues facing Qatar 2022, especially as prominent football people like Platini, Beckenbauer and Peter Verlappen have all suggested moving the competition towards January to combat the heat (April can be ruled out due to Ramadan). Is this a feasible option?
JS- This is a personal bug-bear of mine. Yes, Qatar is hot and humid in the summer. Nobody denies this.
But when you look at the average temperatures of some of the competing cities for the 2022 World Cup, they have the same, if not similar, temperatures. I cite, for example, Seville in Spain, Russia, and Texas to name but three.
(WG-World Cup matches in Dallas and Orlando in 1994 were played in temperatures of 45C to 50C)
Having said that, Qatar was the ONLY country to address the issue head-on with a programme of developments and technological advances – and the will, of course – already set in place for the bid.
As regards moving the tournament to winter, it is certainly feasible from a logistical perspective, but as to the political issues and world football schedules, that is clearly out of my zone.
WG- Would playing the matches at slightly later times in Qatar suit? As the country is three hours ahead of Europe is this viable either?
JS- I could certainly see this being feasible from an indigenous viewpoint. As in most hot countries, their daily schedules tend to be later, as the afternoon heat is taken with a Siesta.
What’s more in the summer it is only two hours ahead of Europe.
WG- Arups has committed itself to coming up with a solution for the temperatures by 2019 (air conditioned stadia) Will there be something similar for fans outside the stadiums watching on big screens?
JS- Not only A/C in the fan zones, but in all publicly-accessed areas. In the bus stops, on the walkways to the stadia etc.
The fan’s and the players’ comfort HAS to come first.
Qatar’s abundance of sunshine affords it the chance to be a net-contributor to the world’s fuel reserves through very intelligent usage of solar power to generate electricity which pumps INTO the national grid more than it needs itself and thereby makes the entire World Cup operation carbon neutral.
WG- Qatar has a very high GDP and one would almost come to the conclusion that the standard of living must be equally high. Will this be an “affordable” tournament for the average fan?
JS- The ability to offer affordable lodging across a range of hotel star ratings and other tourism amenities is a pre-requisite for acceptance of a bidding nation’s candidacy to host a World Cup.
Yes it’s true that the Gulf is largely slanted towards the business community. Qatar is VERY aware of the shortcomings of this approach and is making steady progress towards developing itself in a different manner to some of its neighbours in the region.
WG- Qatar 2022 has been heavily criticised because of the small size of the country (4,416 sq. miles) and will easily be the smallest country ever to host the competition. Is this criticism fair?
The fears of the compactness of Qatar and how it will be able to handle everyone n such close proximity – be they fans or teams – just doesn’t wash with me.
Yes, it WILL be different for many; however when you have a chance to easily see two games a day without having to travel 1,000 miles to get there, simply it HAS to be an appealing prospect.
The logistics will not be a problem either. I have enormous affection and respect for Qatar’s Interior Minister – Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser. He personally takes the time to run a tight ship and I know they already have plans in place to not only send their safety and security people to the forthcoming Word Cups and Olympics – not as observers, but as actual operational folk on the ground.
He takes enormous pride in what they do I have no doubt that he and his team will do whatever it takes to get themselves into a proper shape for the 2022 World Cup. I know they already have provisional plans in place that include an immediate extension to their HQ in order to accommodate the numbers of people who will need to be involved.
Qatar’s compactness will be nothing but an advantage.
WG- Deutsche Bahn are also committed to linking the entire country through rail by 2029, will this time frame be brought forward with the impending World Cup?
JS- The rail infrastructure necessary to host and manage the World Cup will be ready for 2022. Some of the more conceptual or remote connections will take longer, but that won’t affect the games at all. Each stadium will be served by a dedicated station, with easy access for all, with multi-lingual ATM-styled information points, ticketing systems etc.
All of this has been taken VERY seriously into account. A games this compact simply couldn’t function without it.
WG- Is it hoped that the Aspire Sports Academy will play a major part in the further development of the game in Qatar and the Middle East in general?
JS- ASPIRE is at the very heart of Qatar’s football – and sports – strategy and that will only grow. It must not be forgotten, moreover, that part of ASPIRE is the Aspetar sports medicine and injury hospital. It was the first one of its type in the region and is only one of about 12 FIFA accredited sports medicine facilities in the entire world.
ASPIRE on the whole is very much in growth mode, and the folks there are doing a tremendous job. This year was the first time in four years of their youth programme, where a native Qatari progressed to play for the national side.
WG- Under the Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the country has undergone a great period of liberalisation and modernization. However, the World Cup will represent something that no Middle Eastern country has ever had to contend with before. Is it expected that other countries in the Middle East will follow Qatar’s lead either before or after the World Cup?
JS- I guess you’d have to ask the Arab League that one!! What I have heard, however, is that both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are keen to get involved in World Cup-styled football and sports in general. Who knows where that will lead in the next 12 years – It’s a long time in the Gulf.
Just 12 years ago Qatar was a slither of what it is today. Part of what we were showing to FIFA was the vision of where we saw Qatar as a nation and as a hosting country in 2022. It was a relatively easy sell as we said – look where we were 12 years ago. Now you can see that we are proposing for 12 years time is perfectly deliverable from a Qatari perspective.”
All of this has been taken VERY seriously into account. A games this compact simply couldn’t function without it.
WG- There has been mention of “flat-packing” stadiums and then sending off the remains to developing countries and building 22 new stadiums. On paper this is an incredible idea and could change the face of the game throughout the developing football world. How does Arups as stadium designers plan to execute this aspect of their task?
JS- Firstly this wouldn’t be Arup’s task to execute these plans. It would probably fall to the stadium management team to manage on behalf of the Qatar Olympic Committee which heads-up the stadium ownership in Qatar.
My own personal feeling is that the idea would need to probably be passed through a committee at first, which would decide on who would be a worthy recipient. The masses of extra spare capacity after a World Cup is way more than Qatar would ever need, so why not put it to better use? I think it’s an inspired idea quite honestly, and I am sure that it won a lot of support within FIFA.
WG- Why does Qatar want to host the World Cup?
JS- The question – why does ANY nation wish to host the WC?
On the wall in the VIP suite of Khalifa Stadium in Doha there is an old black and white photo of four young boys playing football. The pride and pleasure is written on their faces. The boy in the middle is a very young Emir of Qatar. He has been football mad since his youth, and this has permeated everything.
Additionally, Qatar as part of its National Vision 2030 has placed sports as the central theme for developing tomorrow’s youth and giving them the right outlook on life.
Football, as a result, is central to this whole national development plan.
I don’t know how familiar you are with the Arab world, but walk down ANY souk from Morocco through to Iraq, and you will ALWAYS see loads of fans in their bars sitting watching football passionately. It genuinely is THE major sport in the region by a VERY long way.
WG- What legacy does Qatar 2022 want to leave behind?
JS- The legacies of a WC in Qatar are numerous.
They focus very much on the ability to assist less financially secure countries with the benefits that it will bring the whole region. From the technology which will be exportable to the stadia which will also be exportable.
A pride in the region, at having hosted a Word Cup
A force for unification amongst the various nations in the region. As has been re-stated in Qatar’s closing presentation to FIFA last week, football has the ability to unite differing groups in a way that no other method can.
It is also hoped that the 2022 WC in Qatar will help open-up a host of other non-Arab countries to the game. Asia is an area ripe for development, with India and also China being potentially enormous markets. By hosting close to their region and in a country that has a foothold in those countries, it is hoped that world football will benefit enormously through market development.
The legacies also stretch to opening up Women’s football in the region. Qatar has launched its own Women’s Football League and is hoping that this trend will span the region in the not-too distant future.
It is also a goal of 2022 to develop the whole commercial economies as well as sports and marketing related activities through this unique tournament.
Qatar is at the forefront of developing a non-fuel based economy and is keen to be the leader in this area throughout the region. Even though it has enough gas reserves to generate substantial incomes for at least 200 years, Qatar is keen not to be beholden to this as quickly as is possible.
Further to what I have mentioned above I will re-cap the development of Women’s football in the region.
It is also planning to use the impetus of 2022 to greatly enhance the standards of its’ own domestic league national team and also assist others in the region – in terms of both performance and also live attendance.
There is the impetus that 2022 will have on the development of eco-friendly A/C systems and other technologies that can advantage the less fortunate as well.
On the political legacy, I will quote from the official documentation. In the voice of any other nation, this might seem trite. The Emir, however, and not forgetting his wife Sheikha Mozah (a VERY influential lady in her own right) are genuinely and deservingly at the forefront of world politics and global decision making. As a nation – and very much under the guidance of The Emir, Qatar regularly punches way above its’ weight – 2022 being a case in point. So the legacy item states:
“Through greater communication and understanding, Qatar 2022 will encourage the world to embrace and celebrate diversity. The shared experiences of the FIFA World Cup TM, the demonstrable reach of football and the world’s simple love of a football will inspire unity and cohesion, giving hope for peace and harmony.”
Many thanks to Jon for taking his time to answer these questions.