Qatar 2022 – Moment In Time
I have just returned from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. My 10th consecutive Football World Cup attendance, which stretches back across five decades to Mexico 1986. Disclaimer – I am not trying to write the article that has been written by many in the past few months. I am fully cognisant of the issues and peculiarities surrounding this World Cup, and I in no way seek to defend how it was acquired and executed. However, my overriding sentiment is that I have experienced this peninsular Arab country at a particularly remarkable moment in time.
All things football were entertaining, exciting, and often exceptional. With Doha on best behaviour to a backdrop of hugely impressive, no-expense-spared infrastructure advancements. Showcasing all manner of grandios desert developments, matched by their US$220 billion World Cup spend, Qatar certainly laid the foundations for a tournament visit like no other. The money spent on stadia alone is eyewatering; never before has a tournament spent US$6.5 billion to construct 7 super advanced arenas and remodel another.
Like so many others who attended, the conscientious world citizen in me hopes that this moment will stand the test of time, with the country, and region, accepting a more integrated mindset, respecting international values, as well as proudly sticking to their own traditions.
As a travel organiser offering holidays across the world, although I thoroughly enjoyed the destination, I am not sure the State of Qatar will become a popular holiday spot. But, rather remaining as an international hub of intertest, between continents.
Travelling with my 24-year-old son and motley, albeit depleted band of seasoned campaigners, we were treated to space-age stadia and a dystopian domestic transport system, effortlessly linking fans from all over the world to 64 matches.
In addition to experiencing another country’s culture and 21st century way of life, the most exciting element was being able to attend games at different stadia, daily – all within 40 miles of each other. This was particularly appreciated considering the next World Cup (2026) will be shared between the USA, Mexico and Canada.
At every turn an army of international volunteers and stewards, whose confidence and sense of fun grew as the tournament progressed, welcomed, ushered, and serenaded the multitude of travelling fans to, though, across and from differing venues, games and desert landscapes.
Between games, side trips included walking through the maze of futuristic famous footballer covered skyscrapers. We attended mega HD-screened fan zones, coastal harbours, promenades, mega-wharfs, and sandy beaches.
Daily dry heat temperatures were perfect between noon and sunset at 4.30pm. After which, with the later games finishing past midnight, regular late nights resulted in less beach time than anticipated.
Staying in the Free-Zone Fan Park, our £200 per night converted-container accommodation was basic, but fine. Well, once they had managed to stop the electricity tripping and the plumbing from emptying across the floor.
In addition to the futuristic setting, regular royal guard of trotting camels and cost of beers (topped at £15 for half bottle of Heineken), the over-riding memory will be of so many Middle Eastern and Asian fans so enthusiastically embracing the tournament. Whether migrants or regional visitors, their exuberance, fully embracing and delighting in the spirit and carnival atmosphere was infectious.
Reduced US$10 match tickets for Qatar residents resulted in many local families attending, magnificently decked out from top-to-toe in whatever team’s kit they chose to support. As international fans, we purchased group stage tickets through FIFA ranging from US$80 – $200. Associated fan lowest priced tickets for Semi (US$450) and Final (US$750) tickets were more expensive.
Never-ending train carriages full of supporters, all complete with Argentina Messi shirts, flags, and banners – no matter that they lived tens of thousands of miles away from the country’s colours they were dressed up in. This reminded me of Japan 2002, when 99% of Japanese fans attended England games wore David Beckham shirts.
Although understandable that so many global fans shied away from attending this World Cup – in the main due to criticism of Qatar’s human rights record, focusing on treatment of migrant workers, women and LBGTQ rights, as well as overall expense of attending – it is a shame that even more people did not experience this World Cup in person.
I sincerely hope that in decades to come this year’s World Cup will be seen a watershed moment for not only football in the region, but more importantly paving a way to acceptance that the country, and whole region, will wholeheartedly welcome people regardless of their social, cultural, and economic background.
Certainly, to some extent, there is a hypocrisy in Western criticism of this year’s tournament. It is important to remember, that when England hosted the World Cup in 1966, homosexuality was a criminal offence. We must be mindful that in our correct condemnation of the ethical environment of the Qatar World Cup, as a society we were and continue to be guilty of the same crimes we criticise. It took a further 5 years for the FA to lift its ban forbidding women playing football on grounds affiliated to Clubs; a further 10 years to establish the Race Relations Act (1976), and 19 years until the Disability Discrimination Act (1995). We must bear in mind that Qatar only gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1971 – they are understandably in a different epoch in the development of their nation.