“It’s up to us to shine”: the Qataris on the organization of the World Cup | News Qatar 2022 World Cup

Doha, Qatar- When Qatar was announced as the host of the 2022 World Cup 12 years ago, Aisha al-Ali and her husband had recently married and were starting to build their new home in Rawdat al-Hamama, a village near Lusail , the second largest city in Qatar. .

Her husband had his doubts, saying the location was too remote, but she assured him that with the tournament approaching, “I’m sure Qatar will change.”

She was right. In just over a decade, roads, highways and bridges have been built, easily connecting the entire country.

Since he is allocated accommodation rights in 2010, Qatar spent more than $200 billion to develop and improve its infrastructure, including the construction of seven new football stadiums.

“We only had 12 years to build the infrastructure, build these highways, make sure [Qatar] has public transport and roads for easy access to all stadiums,” says al-Ali, a mother of three in her 40s.

“To get from my new house to my in-laws or my parents, at the time it took me half an hour, now it takes me 15 minutes,” she says, referring to the highways and roads built in the over time.

“We are so proud to host the World Cup and Qatar’s achievements,” al-Ali said, adding that the event itself is a “moment” she has been waiting for since 2010.

As this is the first time for an Arab and Muslim country in the Middle East to host “a big event such as the World Cup… it is time for us to shine”, al-Ali said.

“It’s time for us to show the world that we are part of you, we are as good as you are at hosting it. Sport unites all nations together.

“It’s not just Qatar that’s hosting the World Cup, it’s the whole region that’s hosting it.”

“An event that the whole world can enjoy”

Sheikh Suhaim al-Thani, 31, director of the Qatar Free Zones Authority, which helps foreign companies wishing to work in the country, told Al Jazeera that the sporting event is not just a Qatari achievement but one “for all Arabs, Muslims and anyone”. who really loves football”.

“Qatar is the smallest country that has ever been able to meet the needs of such a tournament,” al-Thani said, visibly proud.

The whole country comprises only 11,586 square kilometers (4,473 square miles), making it smaller than the Australian city of Sydney. It takes only 200 km (124 miles) to reach the northernmost point of Qatar from the southernmost point of the peninsula.

Al-Thani will watch eight games at stadiums but has planned fun nights with his friends for other matches at his majlis, a traditional hall in Qatari homes where friends, family and community members gather to socialize. .

Sheikh Suhaim al-Thani
“Qatar is the smallest country that has ever been able to meet the needs of such a tournament,” said Sheikh Suhaim al-Thani. [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

The aroma of Arabic incense popularly known as bakhoor fills the air from his majlis, an extended part of his home on the outskirts of the Qatari capital, Doha.

Al-Thani believes the event can show Western skeptics how an Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern country can pull off such a big event.

He said he felt the general Western media narrative of Qatar hosting the Cup was negative and unbalanced.

“These [media] the accounts do not describe how much Qatar has transformed over the years,” he said.

“Qatar has transformed beyond recognition over the past few years, we’re greener, there’s so much innovation, digital transformation. It all came together just in time for the World Cup It’s party time,” he said.

Changes in society

For Maha Kafoud, 21, a student who studied psychology in Melbourne, Australia, it’s not just the country’s infrastructure that she’s seen noticeably change over the years.

Since her last return to Qatar for a visit in January 2020, she has begun to notice changes in Qatari society.

“Before, if a Qatari woman didn’t wear an abaya, everyone would panic, look at her and judge her. But since I’m back, I’ve been wearing hoodies and going around Doha to all the new places and stuff, and really no one cares,” Kafoud said.

” I saw [Qatari] men and women together and no one bats an eyelid when they see this either,” she said, adding that with so many people from all over the world arriving in Qatar, change is “an expected thing.”

Since returning earlier this month to watch the World Cup, Kafoud said the country feels “even more progressive and welcoming…all while maintaining our culture and traditions”.

Present “our culture”

Kafoud was present on Sunday opening ceremony with his father, a football enthusiast who played the sport for 20 years when he created his own local team in Qatar called Al-Matar Al-Qadeem.

“It was a historic event that I will remember for the rest of my life,” Kafoud said.

“We really showed our culture to the world…Knowing that millions of people saw our way of dancing, heard our songs, heard the Koran played; it was just such a beautiful thing.

Sword Dancers at the Opening Ceremony
Sword dancers are seen during the opening ceremony at Al Bayt Stadium in Doha, Qatar [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman narrated the opening segment, telling viewers, “We all gather here in one great tribe.”

Alongside Freeman was Ghanim al-Muftah, a 20-year-old Qatari born with a rare condition that hampers lower spine development. He recited a verse from the Holy Quran calling for global unity.

“O humanity! Indeed, We have created you from a male and a female, and We have made you into peoples and tribes so that you may come to know one another,” he recited.

For the opening game where Qatar played against EcuadorAround 60,000 fans were packed into the Al Bayt stadium in the city of Al-Khor, the exterior of which was designed to look like a traditional Bedouin tent.

Fireworks, song and dance marked the opening ceremony, with performances blending themes from Qatari tradition with other cultures.

“It was such a proud moment for me and I also think of all Qataris, even foreigners… we were all in tears,” Kafoud said.

“I don’t think this has ever been done before, where we [Qataris] were able to show part of our Arab and Muslim heritage to the whole world.

[Al Jazeera]
Around 60,000 fans crammed into Al Bayt Stadium, the exterior of which was designed to look like a traditional Bedouin tent [Katya Bohdan/Al Jazeera]

hope for more change

Even after the World Cup ended, Kafoud said she “can’t wait to see the change” she hopes to follow.

“I hope these 28 days will influence [Qatari] society to become more open-minded and welcoming towards foreigners in general. Although there are a lot of foreigners here – there are more foreigners than Qataris – but there is a divide, a separation, and I hope that after the World Cup it will be more united.

The al-Ali family and their three children are excited to see the football matches in person and have purchased tickets for six different matches at different stadiums to get the “full experience”.

Their home, which they once feared would be too isolated, is now close to one of the stadiums hosting the tournament in Lusail, including games with Portugal and Argentina, teams the family have supported since the grandstands.

“We are fans of [Argentina’s Lionel] Messi and [Portugal’s Cristiano] Ronaldo and I understand that this is their last World Cup… so it’s nice to come and see,” al-Ali said.

“I’ve been to the Arab Cup, and I’ve been to the Asian Cup, so it’s so exciting to see a World Cup now… Qatar brought us the World Cup, so we have to enjoy it, witness it and experience it.”

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