Qatar 2022 is still a World Cup for the Arab world: Nasser Al Khater

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In June, when Saudi Arabia led a four-nation diplomatic blockade of Qatar, the latter probably faced its worst political crisis. The prospect of the city-state hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup was also plunged into doubt as the repercussions of the de facto embargo on Qatar’s largely import-dependent economy was still unknown.

But four months on, in a chat with The Hindu, Nasser Al Khater, Assistant Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, Qatar 2022, expressed relief over the way Qatar has been able to weather the storm.

 

Excerpts:

How has the blockade affected World Cup preparations?

We were a bit worried in the beginning. Thankfully, the market has shown that it is flexible to alternative routes of supplies and suppliers. We have access to Iran, to a port in Kuwait, a port in Oman as well as supplies coming in from Turkey, India and China. So far, the effect seems to be minimal which we are very proud of.

Qatar recently announced visa-free entry for citizens of 80 countries (including India). Was this always on the cards or planned after the blockade?

Even earlier, we had planned such that each fan’s ticket is also his visa to enter the country. Now with more countries being added to the visa waiver list, it will be have a good effect on the World Cup.

There are some restrictions on the air space Qatar can use and this has made getting in and out of Qatar difficult. What will its effect be?

To be honest, it’s only some routes which are longer than they used to be. But a majority are relatively the same.

What has FIFA’s stand been? There is a chance that Saudi Arabia may qualify for the World Cup...

FIFA doesn’t get involved in politics. They recognise that this is a diplomatic crisis and they have been firm and steadfast in their position that this World Cup has been won by Qatar and will be hosted in Qatar.

The design for the Al Thumama Stadium released recently is inspired by the ‘gahfiya’ head-dress. It believed to highlight “the historical bonds that unite the Arab world”. In these fractured times what does this mean?

Regardless of the blockade and diplomatic tensions, this is still a World Cup for the Arab world and the middle-east. We know that the people, as individuals and as a society, still support a World Cup in the middle east. So it’s important to highlight the culture, the richness and the heritage of the region.

Amidst all this, was the €220 million signing of Neymar by PSG (which has Qatari owners) a statement of intent?

That’s speculation. Neymar is a star and wherever he would have gone, he would have attracted such a price tag. There were rumours even prior to the blockade that Neymar will be going to PSG but they were never confirmed. However, the fact that the transfer took place while the blockade was on has an effect of a political statement. But I don't think it was purely political.

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