Doubtless, the tournament will ebb and flow in popularity until things finally become reality in the Gulf State, but in this article, at this early stage, I want to have a go at exploring some of the positive things to come from Qatar’s successful bid, and some of the prospects we can look forward to as football’s most glorious event heads to the Middle East.
So, ignoring, for a minute, the intense heat, the spectre of Qatari Mohammed bin Hammam, and the acute scope for wildly increased carbon emissions, read on and look ahead to the promise and the potential of Qatar 2022.
Over the last twenty years, FIFA has demonstrated a commitment to open its product up to a wider audience and take its premier sporting contest, the World Cup, to new heartlands.
The USA saw the benefit of this initiative in 1994, before Japan and South Korea became both the first Asian nations and the first co-hosts for the historic competition in 2002. In 2010, the World Cup arrived at a fifth continent (Africa) and a new heartland was reached with the contest being taken to South Africa.
In 2022, after a return to Brazil and a sojourn to Russia, the Middle East will become the next bright destination for the Modiale bandwagon, as Qatar benefits from the truly global game. The region is among the fastest growing areas for football in the world and promises to be a endless stream of young, passionate football fans for years to come.
The threat of intense heat during the Qatari summer has led to proposals and suggestions that the World Cup might be moved to the winter, giving us our first ever "Winter World Cup." With a summer average daily high of 106 degrees Fahrenheit and rainfall about as likely as Wales winning their first Coupe de Monde, a change of season may be necessary to avoid the furnace-like conditions.
So far, the Western World has either ridiculed or derided the change of season proposed, but is there a point to which this is a result of a blind preference for the status quo at the expense of a wider consideration for the pros and cons of a proposed scenario?
Could a Winter World Cup not afford British-based players some protection from the harsh conditions of the UK? Could this not allow the turfs and terrain of Western Europe to recover from the strains upon them? Wouldn't a pause in the Premier League encourage more delightful late summer evenings watching relegation battles and title challenges in the beer gardens of the United Kingdom?
It’s unlikely to be well-received by the majority, but the advantages of a Winter World Cup could be far-reaching.
While the other candidates for the 2022 World Cup, including Australia and the United States, would have offered a large-scale, broad competition, the Qatar edition is likely to be unique in its small-scale approach, giving the tournament a cosier feel.
Currently the 164th-largest nation in the world, its 11,586 km2 area puts it in comparative comparison with other tiny nations such as the Gambia, Jamaica, and Montenegro. UK property, the Falkland Islands, are themselves, slightly bigger than the Gulf State. South Korea was a perceived small nation to have hosted the World Cup successfully, although even the East Asian nation (who co-hosted with Japan) has a land mass over ten-times that of Qatar.
This small-scale World Cup may encourage a warmer, cosier atmosphere among fans. The famed ‘fan zones’ and interaction of international supporters is one of the World Cup’s most well-publicised quirks. Travelling fans will have ample occasion to mix in the close quarters of the Arab nation.
We are talking about a space smaller than Yorkshire for goodness sake!
Soon after succeeding in their World Cup bid, the Qatari delegation announced their intention to furnish the nation with a whole swathe of new stadia to provide the backdrop to another historic international spectacle. Nine have been commissioned in total and, along with renovation due on three other sites, a ballpark figure of $4 billion has been mooted for stadium-focused work.
Expect the final figures to be greater than these, but also expect every penny of the expenditure to be splashed onto your screens as the tournament is brought to life in glorious technicolour. Qatar, acutely aware of their branding and marketing potential, will realise the importance of maximising the opportunity provided by the World Cup’s global audience and will endeavour to give the watching world a truly hi-tech spectacle in return.
Following up on the last point, the Qataris have also proposed a novel method of avoiding the white elephant of disused stadia following a major competition. The legacy of the infrastructure of a sporting event is a common issue for nations emerging on the back of major sporting competition. Both Greece and China have had to contend with oversized, underused arenas following the Olympics, while the future of the Olympic Stadium is a pressing debate for Londoners in the aftermath of our own sporting summer.
Qatar’s plan to avoid this issue is to dismantle the stadia following the competition and ship them off to developing nations for use overseas. Now, while this plan raises a thousand technical and practical questions, such as how these supposedly impoverished nations would themselves manage to sustain modern, hi-tech stadia, the prospect of many global regions benefiting from the World Cup legacy is one that should be encouraged and explored.
One luxury Qatar boasts is ease of accessibility—the Arab state may only border one other nation, Saudi Arabia, but its location in the crucible between Asia and Africa, as well as its being a key destination for many major European airports, will mean that fans from various different corners of the world will be able to attend.
Whilst attendances for the 2011 Asian Cup, which were held in Qatar, were disappointing, a current population of 1,696,563 is likely to be dwarfed by the incoming fans brought by the allure of the international spectacle. After losing the 2022 bid to the Arab state, former US forward Eric Wynalda suggested that a successful World Cup would need to see an attendance twice as big as the nation’s standing population.
The convenient timezone will also allow spectators to keep up to date with the action with minimal disruption to their daily routines.
As an enthusiast and aficionado of the African game, I am excited by the prospect of one of the continent’s teams winning the "big one" within my lifetime. Pele once, infamously, predicted that an African side would win the World Cup before the end of the 20th Century, and while that forecast didn’t become reality, teams from the continent are edging ever closer to that illusive spot in the semifinal.
One three occasions African teams have advanced to the quarterfinals, but Cameroon, Senegal, and Ghana have each crumbled as the glow of a final place has burned brightly upon them. Perhaps 2022, with the European teams floundering in the heat, a pathway will be opened for an African side to capitalise and claim an inaugural win for the continent.
If you are seeking for a face to put to the title, it’s hard for me to look too far beyond Nigeria. The current continental champions after winning the recent Cup of Nations, the Super Eagles’ success has been forged on the back of a talented elect of young stars. The likes of Godfrey Oboabona, Ogenyi Onazi and Victor Moses will be in their prime come 2022 and may well be in position to go far in Qatar.
Football observers appear to fit into two camps: those who think that Leo Messi is already the Greatest of All-Time, and there are those who believe that the diminutive Argentine is only one World Cup win away from leapfrogging Pele and Maradona to the top of the plinth.
By the age of 21 he had been nominated for both FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d’Or, he won both a year later. He is already Barcelona’s all-time top scorer, and became, at 25, the youngest player ever to bag 200 goals in La Liga. He is the only player to win 4 Ballons d’Or, and has won the Champions League 3 times.
Currently 25, Messi will be 34 at the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Injury permitting, the tournament could be the final fling of the superlative forward—will we be celebrating the finale for a player who, by then, is heralded worldwide as the greatest of all time, or will the tournament provide an anxious wait to see if Messi can, finally, win the big one, and join the highest echelon of the game’s greats.
Either way, Qatar 2022 could prove to be a fitting departure for one of the greats.