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Small player of big football What to expect from the World Cup in Qatar?

Хави (витрина)
Фото: EPA/Vostock-photo

Qatar is really captivating. And it looks like it will be rewarded. As a result of the three-day visit to Doha, Sports Daily started to regret that the World Championship in Asia will be held four years after the Russian, and not vice versa. We would find what to learn from the experience of the Middle East country and how to make our tournament unprecedentedly the best.

Walk, walk

Hassan Al Thawadi, the Secretary General of the Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), responds in non-Asian direct way to the question of why Qatar categorically is not wanted to be recognized as the host of the World Cup: “Because people know nothing about us”. Without any tricks I admit that in the beginning I could not see the whole picture myself — not only that the championship is in the desert, it seems like it is on one street.

The illusions about distances started to disappear in the first place. Guests will not have to crowd on a narrow patch among three palms. Try to walk around Doha. Let's say, to get from the huge Souk Waqif market to the business area, where all the luxury hotels of various networks are located. And certainly, plan an hour for the promenade along the turquoise bay. Take the risk of getting by foot to Aspire Park, where not so long ago FC Zenit St. Petersburg camp was situated, and this winter FC Bayern will come here again. Madness of the bravest is not needed here — the distances are huge and so far unrelated, except for taxis and buses that are difficult for foreigners’ understanding. The car is also not always helpful: from three to nine in the evening the city's main road, running along the bay, is all in traffic jams. If you do not have enough free time, it is better to stay in a hotel, where, as a rule, one can find everything so that you do not have to go anywhere without special need.

But Qatar will change. And just like in the place of a concrete slab and a metal pipe, now defining the center of the field of the final match stadium Lusail, there will be grass, a marking and a triumphant champion, in the place of sandy wastelands, which for some reason are called suburbs, there will be houses, parks, entertainment complexes that someone might call the wonders of the world. Getting to all this will be 40 minutes from anywhere.

The name of the world champion of 2022 we cannot yet predict, even by joke. But surely Qatar in five years will be a victorious field for high technology. The sole ruler of a small country Mr. Hamad Al Thani (his image here can be seen on every building and windscreen of any car, as if without it car is not for sale) is able not only to engage Neymar. Qatar's investments in the region's promotion are colossal, with the state's intentions to complete the global stage of the Middle East's development in all directions by 2030, the blockade by the GCC (in June this year, the neighbors of Qatar — UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia — broke off relations with the country) seems like a misunderstanding.

Make us a lake!

“Every time I am back to Doha, I see that in the City, in the place where was nothing, a new building appears,” — says a Bein Sport channel reporter. The business center for a few years has turned from a rare stockade into something that associates with Manhattan. Also, the buildings are stylish, materials are expensive, unlike no less rich lands, where for some reason it is preferred to live and work in anthills which remind of the recent past, than to attract the best architectural bureaus or at least learn from their experience.

WC-2022 stadiums, as their curators promise in one voice, should become the most beautiful in the world. For example, Al Bayt arena in the city of Al Khor (60 kilometers from Doha), which will take one of the semifinals, was designed by the same architect that created Allianz Arena in Munich. With the difference that the decorative box will not represent an automobile tire, but a national giant awning. Qatar, with rather strict observance of the laws of Islam, turned out to be not that radical state - eastern traditional symbols are inscribed in the modern look of the country accurately, without suppressing the perception of foreigners.

The idea that the Championship will be held in unusual time was accepted in Qatar relatively easily. The famous air cooling system is constantly being improved, but it is unlikely that it will be able to significantly cool the air in the stadiums and fanzones during the 45-degree heat, which is normal for local summer. Even if the outputs of air conditioners will be located not only under each seat, but in the immediate vicinity of the each viewer’s face. The international calendar will collapse for the sake of that none of the guests of the championship feel like an extremal tourist. Is it worth that? At least it is an impulse. Not only for the Middle East, but also for those who does not yet know about it.

Even remote arenas will not lie on the sand like a bizarre pile, as in Dali's painting. Whole oases will be created around each of them, for example, an artificial lake is promised next to the Al Bayt. It is a pity it has not been already made, for the tour to the stadium. During twenty minutes in a 70 percent complete bowl the mind began to grow dull, and the weakening mind noted that closed clothes of locals arose not only because of religious dogmas.

“Let’s leave traffic jams in the past”

Lusail Stadium which was designed for more than 80 thousand people, needs adjacent territories like no other stadium. After all, the stadium will take the final and the opening match, which means it is expected to be a simultaneous influx from all corners of a miniature but spacious country (hotels and apartments here are being built with such activity that it seems like the Qatarians have already forgotten about Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Manama by deciding to do everything on their own). And the approaches to the arena will be large — in comparison to it the park on Krestovsky Island (St. Petersburg) will seem like a Summer Garden.

The suburb of Lusail itself, in fact, does not really exist — there are many houses and skyscrapers, but more than half of them are under construction yet. But there was already represented a tram that will run here from Doha for about twenty minutes. Traffic jams in Qatar appear not only because of the large number of cars, but also because of unhurried traffic lights, which are programmed to show red for five minutes. The hull and the salon of the tram, which was designed in France, have been already set on display in the lobby of the main metro station. Which is not in Doha yet.

Somebody can consider the four branches of the subway as a luxury, but in order to make possible moving from place to place without people’s swearing, the investment was worth it. The population of Qatar is growing, not least due to foreigners coming here to work not only from Asia, but also from around the world. “Let's leave traffic jams in the past!” — the slogan of Qatar Rail literally begs the owners of white cars. It is hard to get to work for everyone, although the quiet Doha is not yet Dubai.

For example, by red branch it will take you less than half an hour to get from the City to the airport. Almost all the lines intersect in the area of museums and the Souk Waqif market — a replica of old times, but with a magical reputation already. In the subway, of course, you can recharge the phone and use Wi-Fi — seems for 2022 this can be called a mandatory program.

When Xavi finishes

For the hosts of the World Cup, the withdrawal from the group of their team is also considered as mandatory program. Qatar has not the weakest team in the region, but a lot for its ranking was made by foreigners with local passports — Brazilian Tabata and Argentinian Sebastian Soria. The level of local players is noticeably behind, which caught the attention of the Sports Daily. We visited the match between Al Arabi, that was stuck in the bottom of the standings, and Al Rayyan of Michael Laudrup. Soria and Tabata make others to follow their lead, whereas in many other teams there are no such leaders and there is not that much effect on locals from joint exercises. The League of Stars originally followed the easiest path, by attracting players with well-known names. Now the situation is that as soon as Xavi finishes his career at Al Sadd — and this will happen in the spring, — the Qatar League will sound much more modest. Local leaders are able to change — a lot of money (how many times do we repeat this phrase?) are attracted for raising of their own players and also to various sports and social programs associated with this task. “Our goal is to change the life of the entire region. Making people not just dream about how advanced we could be, but to become a model for the whole world here and now,” — says Hassan Al Thawadi. Football is seen as evidence of Qatar's openness to new projects. Is the championship that interesting for the inhabitants of the country? Not yet. Sounds like nonsense, but the fans of Al Arabi were hard to be observed at home match, if the seller of some grains in a red T-shirt is excluded. But the sports channel Al Kass shows football twenty-four hours a day. Perhaps someone really needs it?

Where to find the grass

Qatar gives the impression of Middle Eastern Switzerland. Calmly, stylishly, intelligently. The level of education of those who are responsible for their World Cup is perhaps the main impression of the first trip here. For example, Hassan Al Thawadi speaks (at least) three languages, while his fast way of thinking does not lag behind his words. Similar way of acting was demonstrated at presentations of projects by directors of stadiums, engineers involved in air conditioning process, a technologist who grows grass. Yes, Qatar is already ready to set a record — the grass for the cup final match at the Khalifa Stadium was grown here, one kilometer from its sideline! In no country in the world did the lawn do such a short trip to the destination ...

A small nursery-garden seems inconspicuous due to desert landscapes, but day and night exactly there people watch how the lawn samples from different suppliers react to the handling. However, the task to hold a tender is not set. Qatar people seek for growing and patenting their own kind of grass, which will stay undamaged under scorching sun. And for this, with the help of special equipment, the behavior of the roots is monitored — how much they consume moisture and for how long. In Qatar there is no other way to get fresh water, except for purification of the sea water, so even the enthusiastic body washing under the tap in a public toilet is not welcome here. What to say about watering the grass that wants to live. In the near future, the Khalifa field will begin to be tested in the World Championship mode. If the experiment is successful, it is hard to say what the Qatar people will be doing in the next five years.

The current stage of preparation for WC-2022 is like archaeological excavations backwards. By looking at the stones and concrete, you see not what was there before, but what will happen in the future. And the magic in this, perhaps, is not less than the one you feel if you once again rise to the Parthenon. Qatar took the risk of being a black sheep. And, as in architecture, it seeks a compromise with the world around it — alcohol in special zones during the World Cup will be allowed, although in normal life it is only available here in top-class hotels and at prices that make you stay sober.

This peninsula in the Persian Gulf is defiantly small in order to be associated with such a major event. Especially considering the scale of the country, which will host the World Cup next summer. But it is even funny to remind that Napoleon was not a giant as well. The Middle East is waiting for a fascinating five years. No matter how its representatives sit at a gambling table.

Doha — St. Petersburg

Translation by Yulia Kartashova

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