The draw for the World Cup finals in Qatar puts the spotlight on a tournament like no other

DOHA, Qatar – For Qatar, Friday’s World Cup draw was the final lap of a race that began more than two decades ago. That’s when the Gulf nation – poor in square miles, population and (back then) recognized, but rich in GDP per capita and ambitious – decided to make sport one of the focuses. of development.

Sports will elevate the nation, promote business opportunities, provide some legacies for the day when, inevitably, oil and natural gas run out. It’s just one spearhead of the strategy – security (U.S. military’s Gulf Central Command in Doha), communications (Al Jazeera) and education are also priorities – but in some ways it does. is the most important.

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The most important step in the journey came on December 2, 2010, when a vote by FIFA’s Executive Committee awarded them the 2022 World Cup. It will turn out to be a contentious day – three of the 25 ExCo members who were suspended for corruption prior to the vote, 11 others who voted that day were subsequently banned, prosecuted or suspended, and longtime FIFA president Sepp Blatter was ousted a few years later – but that means Qatar is on its way and there’s no turning back.

And now, everything becomes a reality.

Friday’s draw will determine how the 32 participating nations will be placed into groups of four. Well, almost – real life, of course, has gotten in the way in the form of a pandemic and war, which means three points still have to be determined. Without any further swings, one match will be contested by Ukraine, Scotland and Wales, another by Australia, the United Arab Emirates and Peru and the final by Costa Rica vs. New Zealand. While most of FIFA’s 211 member countries have had their World Cup dreams long since extinguished – and a few in just the past 10 days – fans in 37 countries can continue to hope, at least for now. until June, when the final qualifying round takes place. .

What will they find when November arrives and the so-called Biggest Show in sports begins? A World Cup like no other.

Initially, we were used to having countries host the World Cup, but this is essentially a tournament held in a single city, Doha. Qatar has a population of nearly 2.5 million and almost 90% of them live in the Doha metropolitan area. Seven of the eight locations are either in central Doha, or within a few miles of the city limits. The not (Al Khor) is only 30 miles away. Never in the history of games has so many “things” – players, fans, sponsors, executives, salespeople – gathered in such a small space.

In addition, the World Cup has never been held in such a place with such a new feeling, not constrained by the constraints of history and specifically from football culture.

Culturally rich and ancient Qatar: People have lived here since the Stone Age, but the country itself only gained independence in 1971 and for most of its history it was ruled by others, whether British, Saudi or Ottoman. That independence, generally coinciding with the discovery of vast oil and natural gas reserves, is a blessing. Its wealth is – relatively speaking – untapped by foreigners, and it suddenly finds itself with a gap in development and cash to make (almost) anything happen.

Doha felt like a huge construction site when I first visited it almost 20 years ago and although it’s bigger and bolder today, it still feels like a work in progress. onion. Few tangible things are older than the turn of the millennium: not opulent towers, not large shopping malls filled with familiar brands, not stadiums themselves. Most of them look like what you’d expect: the striking architectural blocks look especially impressive from afar, although one (Stadium 974) deserves credit for creativity, as It is built entirely from shipping containers and will be disassembled after the tournament.

They also contribute to an atmosphere of impermanence and impermanence: You are in Qatar, but you could be anywhere – anywhere where sport and entertainment, sponsors and politics meet.

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In a way, that’s an unfair criticism. The recent World Cup hosts (Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Germany) not only have strong and different football cultures; they are also strong national brands globally. There is an identity that everyone is familiar with and the league has built. Qatar doesn’t have those luxuries. For many, they are what the world chooses to project on them: a cookie cutter, a wealthy Gulf oil and gas nation with absolute dominion, opulent buildings and boutiques. design, a country that mistreats immigrant workers and enjoys accumulating shiny fortunes, much like the 2022 World Cup, in fact. Fair? Sure is not.

Qatar will point to the strides it has made – especially compared to neighboring countries – in terms of women’s rights, the democratic process, education and thanks in part to the prominence the World Cup has brought, so are the rights of migrant workers and working conditions. But clearly there is still work to be done. And if the 2022 World Cup is to have any purpose for the country, beyond providing universal sports entertainment and bragging rights, it will need to better tell its story to the rest of the world.

The bell has been rung, this is the last act. Now it’s time to make it worth it. The draw for the World Cup finals in Qatar puts the spotlight on a tournament like no other

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