The countdown to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar has officially begun. With it comes not only excitement and joy, but also apprehension. It’s hard to remember a World Cup countdown shrouded in more doubt and concern from the outside world.
Issues such as the heat, the standard of the stadiums, and its best not to even dwell on the circumstances in which they came to be awarded the tournament.
Yet, while most of the sporting world is either grinding back to a halt or ceased altogether, Qatar’s 2022 preparations are going full steam ahead for next year’s football spectacle.
Thanks to the rigorous safety measures they adopted at the start of the pandemic, the construction of stadiums and transportation were able to continue as planned.
The steady opening of new roads and bridges as well as the Qatar metro network, completed in early 2020, have all been in preparation for next year.
Such efforts have brought about the completion of the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium; a beautiful 40,000 capacity venue inaugurated on Qatar’s national day, 18 December (exactly two years before the 2022 final).
It is the fourth purposely built Qatar 2022 venue to be completed with two more expected to be unveiled in the coming months.
The stadium hosted the Amir Cup final between Al Sadd and Al Arabi, where the latter came out 2-1 winners in the presence of 20,000 spectators.
In recognition of its impressive handling of the pandemic, Qatar was also selected as the venue to host 35 AFC Champions League West Zone matches between September and October, and a further 40 East Zone fixtures in November. The Asian Football Confederation committee congratulated the Qatar Football Association for hosting these events with player and fan safety being of upmost importance.
The World Cup in Qatar will uniquely have four matches played per day given how compact the country is; gifting fans the chance to attend more than one game a day.
So what kind of experience are intrepid fans in store for if they are lucky enough to attend the competition?
As it was for the Amir Cup final, all fans will have to download the national contact tracing app, EHTERAZ, and get tested for Covid-19 at least two days prior to the game; after which you may receive your ticket.
Before entry to the stadium, the tracing app must come up as ‘safe’; otherwise you are refused entry.
It is thanks to precautions such as these that Qatar has been able to successfully host thousands of fans in their venues, a feat which, even the most ardent optimist would have to concede, is a long way off in the UK.
For now, the nation is gearing up to host the FIFA Club World Cup.
Kicking off on the 1 February (originally December) with European giants Bayern Munich favourites to lift the trophy, the CEO of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Nasser Al Khater, mentioned the importance of staging these events saying: “Every footballing event we host and organise is an important milestone for us to practice and test our plans.”
Having already hosted the 2019 edition of the Club World Cup and having been able to test their procedures, alongside the hosting of the AFC Champions League, the country will look at the coming tournament as another vital field test.
In a world where many countries are crawling their way back to a sense of normality, Qatar have paved the way for what looks to be the most exciting World Cup finals yet.