Nasser Al-Khater, the executive director of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, said this year’s event will provide an opportunity “to reflect on what the Middle East is really about” as the region prepares to host for the first time the to assume duties as the host of a World Cup.
“I think it’s definitely a moment of pride for the Middle East,” Al-Khater said on a recent episode of news week‘s podcast The diplomat. “No one is under the illusion that the world’s perception of the Middle East is not entirely correct. And I think people see a real opportunity in that.”
Podcast host Jason Greenblatt, the White House envoy for the Middle East during former President Donald Trump’s administration, traveled to Doha, Qatar to visit Stadium 974, one of eight venues where players will compete when the World Cup begins in November. There, Greenblatt spoke to Al-Khater about the likely impact of the World Cup on Qatar and the Middle East at large.
Qatar first joined the bid to host the 2022 event in mid-2009. Russia was the youngest country to host the World Cup in Moscow almost four years ago.
Al-Khater told Greenblatt that the fact that a country in the Middle East is hosting the World Cup is “a huge plus for the international football community”.
“I really think we felt like it was about time,” he said.
Hosting this year’s World Cup has accelerated infrastructure projects in Qatar, with an estimated 95 percent of the required roads already completed, Al-Khater said. By early February, FIFA reported around 17 million ticket requests for World Cup events in Qatar, which has an estimated total population of just under 3 million. Al-Khater said officials expect between 1.2 and 1.5 million fans will travel to the country to attend the celebrations during the weeks of the competition.
Among the projects tackled in the run-up to the World Cup was the construction of Stadium 974, a venue named after both Qatar’s international code and the number of shipping containers used in its construction. Al-Khater described the stadium as “a favorite of many fans” and noted its unique ability to be deconstructed and rebuilt in other locations.
“This was a promise we made to FIFA: the stadium will be rebuilt in a country that needs to improve and develop its sporting infrastructure,” Al-Khater said, although he added that it would be “heartbreaking” that ” beautiful” stadium to see. Stadium left after recent Testing events in Qatar.
With international fans expected to visit later this year, Greenblatt asked Al-Khatar who would all be welcome to make the trip. LGBTQ activists have raised concerns about Qatar’s stance on sexuality, although officials said Qatar will be welcoming and hospitable to visitors.
“We made a promise to FIFA and the international community that any fan who wants to come to the World Cup is welcome,” said Al-Khater. He referred to current surveys that show that Doha in particular is one of the safest cities in the world.
“We want to reassure the fans that Qatar is a very safe country,” said Al-Khater. “And to everyone who will be here, we make you a promise that you will feel safe and secure.”
Al-Khater told Greenblatt he was “confident” that the development Qatar has been preparing for the World Cup will help boost tourism. Most fans will be staying close to the celebrations, with museums, concerts, beaches, restaurants and other attractions also nearby.
“Rejoice,” said Al-Khater. “Whichever team qualified, congratulations, we look forward to seeing you here. If your team is close to qualifying: good luck. If your team didn’t qualify: come over here and get involved. “