By Andrew Warshaw
May 21 – The head of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organising committee says the Saudi-led regional blockade of his country has been a “blessing in disguise” and has also vowed to ensure the tournament remains affordable to visitors despite the impact of Covid-19.
For the last three years, Qatar has suffered a trade and diplomatic boycott by the Saudis, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates over claims it supports extremist groups in the region.
But Hassan al-Thawadi told the Leaders in Sport online forum, LeadersWeek.direct. that it had had no negative effect on preparations for the World Cup.
“It was a blessing in disguise to a large extent because it forced us to be self-reliant and forced us to look inward,” said Al Thawadi. “This forced us to become much more resilient and much more self-assured.”
The 20-minute interview made no mention of the latest development in the FIFAGate scandal which burst into new life last month with a fresh catalogue of explosive indictments and allegations relating to widespread bribery, notably over the awards of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
Al-Thawadi must be fed up to the back teeth with ongoing suspicions about the credibility of the Qatar bid as preparations push ahead.
Asked if there was one thing he would do differently on a personal level, he replied: “I think one of them would be would be developing a thicker skin….early on when we faced criticism and so on. You know, there were times when folks were hard done by. So just to have thicker skin when certain accusations were levelled at us in terms of dealing with it.”
Moving on to Covid-19, Al-Thawadi acknowledged concerns that the predicted economic recession may make it less palatable for fans but hopes the public health situation will be vastly improved by the time of the first winter World Cup in November, 2022 – four months after the time when the tournament would normally start.
“There is always a concern about the global economy and the ability of fans to be able to afford travel and coming to participate and celebrate the World Cup,” he said. “We have always said from day one that this will be an affordable tournament, we want anyone who wants to come to the World Cup to be able to come.”
“Now, with the uncertainty of what it is going to look like post-COVID, there is no clear blueprint that I can sit down and discuss.
“(But) we are still committed to creating a balance between an affordable World Cup, at a price-rate which is affordable for fans, and at the same time a price-range which is affordable and functionable for the industry.
“By 2022 I’m optimistic that we would overcome this pandemic as a human race collectively. It will be one of the early opportunities for all of us to celebrate together, to engage together, to bring people together.”
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