Friday, 3 December 2010

Doha a Go-Go with the World Cup

Somewhere out there, two Qataris were sitting in Souq Waqif debating what was meant by the alleged quotes by their leaders, which appeared in the cables posted on Wikileaks.org. Did the Qatari Emir really authorize the use of American bases in the country for a potential attack on Iran? Would the Prime Minister of Qatar really be double-dealing the Iranians? Amidst the quiet conversations, like a phoenix rising from the desert, FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced that the micro-Gulf state of Qatar would be awarded the 2022 World Cup. A quarter of a million citizens and the overall 1.6 million residents were told they would host what is arguably the globe's largest sporting event, if not its most significant spectacle. Wikileaks who?

The successful bid for the World Cup, of course, has resonance beyond sport. The impact was felt in the audible gasp throughout the entire Middle East in light of the announcement. This is the first time that the event will be hosted not only in the Gulf, or in the Arab world, or in the Middle East but in fact in any Muslim-majority country. In Qatar's sandy dust, lies the U.S., no competition for the apparently carbon neutral event to be held in 50 degree weather (celsius for your Americanos). The UAE, which recently trumpeted its world-class F1 track, is left to scratch its head; even sizzling Dubai at its peak could not land a marquee event to match what Qatar has now done. Yet, perhaps, in a positive development for the region, other Arab countries will seize on this as a moment to come together. As Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, said on his Facebook page of all places, "I would like to congratulate Qatar on their win to host the World Cup in 2022. This victory is an achievement for all Arab countries."

Why Qatar? Of course, there will be the nefarious rumors that there were financial incentives that secured the 14 to 8 vote by the 22-member executive body in FIFA. George Vecsey aptly writes in the New York Times: You say bribes. They say vision. Split the difference." The critics, however, are out in full force, beginning with President Obama, who claimed the wrong decision had been made. America's leading sports channel ESPN led with a headline, 'World Cup decisions defy logic.' The Boston Globe had a piece stating that there were a trillion reasons not to host the World Cup in Qatar, including that somehow Qatar's record on women's rights (which to be honest is a really an uninformed comment and you just have to ask Sheikha Mozah about that) should be an issue (should US Foreign policy also be a barometer for awarding the World Cup?).

For just one second, forget about the drawbacks, or why a nation that has less than two million residents (although possessing a natural-gas driven GDP of $100 billion) was awarded the World Cup. This is a country that successfully pulled off the Asian Games in 2006. This is the country that hosts every year a world-class Golf tournament and tennis tournament (I myself was witness to Nadal and Federer last year in Doha). This is a country that has created a deep national commitment to sport with the Aspire Academy. This is a country that made an amazing proposal. So if Qatar wants to dream, let them dream. If they can commit the tens of billions of dollars to build the requisite infrastructure for the World Cup, let them realize their dream. Because it is not just their dream. It is a dream for the millions of youth today and the millions of youth tomorrow in the Arab world. When there are 113 million youth (or one third of the entire population) should they not look to the future with excitement? Just look at the vision of the Qatari bid:



This is the country that revolutionized media with Al Jazeera and Al Jazeera International, not just in the Arab world, but worldwide. They are flush with cash and committed to making this event not just happen but to organize something amazing for the world to see. Qatar against improbable odds - and counter to many predictions, my own included - captured a coup as a country. They deserved it. The region deserves it. Quite frankly, wither the naysayers, I'm excited. See you in 2022 in Doha.

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