Let’s just get this out of the way first up: I’m not a soccer guy.
I mean, I used to play when I was a kid, and was even good enough to play on a rep team for my area, but I quit when I was 12.
That said, I’ve still been interested in all the controversy of tiny little Qatar landing the 2022 Soccer World Cup. It so happens that my dad is currently living and working in Qatar, so I thought I’d ask him as a ‘local’ for his perspective on the issue, which needless to say, is quite different from the perspectives I’ve encountered here in the US. What he had to say follows below the fold.
Downtown Doha, Qatar
As a Kiwi guy living in Qatar for the last 3 years, it’s interesting to observe all the whining and low innuendo about bribes and other foul play from those who did not win the bid for 2022.
Fair enough to whine but let’s consider another perspective. FIFA can be applauded for taking this event to countries with more than sheer size, history in the game, or other traditional attributes. The Middle East is a much maligned region because of its extremists and their governments lacking Western-style democracy, and it’s easily discounted as a result of this perception being applied to every Middle Eastern country.
But ask an ordinary Jordanian or Qatari (as I have on a number of occasions) if they would like to change their style of government, and there is a resounding “No, our Kings are the best thing for us!” So taking football to South Africa, Brazil, Russia, Qatar does stake out a new direction for the game – it’s not just a Western club of good old boys that get to party.
The Middle East is also a region where some countries such as the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Jordan – there may be others, are taking steps to be more open and accepting of other religions and cultures. These changes take time as new generations become educated – often in Western countries – and develop important trading relationships. So to some extent there is a lot of merit in giving the Middle East region an opportunity to be embraced by the football world as an ambassador for sport, cultural openness, and societal development.
There will be significant change in Qatar over the next 12 years as the country makes alchohol more available and provides pork in supermarkets (as happens in UAE). Maybe even the dress code will be a little more relaxed; not that the code is a problem for any of the hundreds of expats that attend the Aussie and Kiwi social functions: its just about a fair standard of modesty, and it’s no big deal.
Loutish behaviour doesn’t exist in Qatar today and hopefully the World Cup will not bring this aspect of the game to a country whose main claim to bad behaviour is the way they drive – and even then the worst offenders are silly people from outside Qatar. Believe me, Qatari’s can drive, especially when taking you for a tour of the sand dunes!
While Qatar is blessed with huge riches from oil and gas, it’s great to see a safe and secure Middle East country with a 2030 vision to be a leader in Education, Health and opportunity for its people, also foster sport as a means to bringing Qatari societies and other cultures together in a manner that shows Middle East countries how to blend with the Western world while retaining their own culture, religion and values.
Qatar is also using this opportunity to extend football competition via its donation of surplus stadiums to developing countries where Qatar will set up the stadiums with the cooling technology it’s developed in order to make football an even more viable sport in hot climates.
While Qatar are minnows in football, they do have a very competitive local league and engagement with neighbouring countries – does it really matter they’re not winners on the world stage? What difference does that make. Just look at what rugby is doing by taking its competitions to countries with developing rugby status. Qatar has also shown that it can stage very successful sports events – such as its hosting of the 2006 Asian Games, so it’s not new to the challenge of a really large event.
With US$200 billion of projects that have already been approved and planned, Qatar will now speed up the deployment of these projects as a result of its winning bid. While it is not going to be fun living in a small country with that amount of development going on, the result will be quite amazing: a new airport, a rail system that links Bahrain to Oman, city metro, ultra fast broadband to the home, more universities, whole new cities, etc etc, and at the end of it a really modern Middle Eastern society that will be very aligned with other cultures and societies. It’s quite nice what sport can do to improve society.
Written by Deen Hall, Qatar