The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) stepped onto the global stage this week to highlight the unifying power of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
SC secretary general Hassan al-Thawadi delivered a keynote speech alongside UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
Al-Thawadi took the opportunity to address a global audience in the opening session of a high-level panel focused on “The Value of Hosting Mega Sport Events as a Social, Economic and Environmental Sustainable Development Tool”.
The following is the text of al-Thawadi’s speech at the United Nations.
“Sport is unique in its potential to break down barriers, create friendships and enhance cultural understanding. No matter our creed, belief or nationality, sport touches on our passion and brings out the best of us as individuals and human beings.
And no other sport has the worldwide appeal that football possesses.
Recently an image of a young Afghan child spread on social media. The child’s brother had made a blue- and white-striped shopping bag into an Argentine national jersey, with “Messi” and the number 10 inscribed on the back. This powerful image, and the joy that football brought to this child, symbolises the incredible reach of the world’s game.
No event has an extraordinary global reach comparable to the World Cup. No event has a larger television audience. In an increasingly globalised world, this is the world’s singular most global event.
The British sociologist, and author of The Ball is Round, David Goldblatt, describes the magnitude of the event profoundly:
“If there is a global culture and a global humanity, then the World Cup, more than any other phenomenon, is where those tales are told. We are fortunate then that the game we have chosen as our collective avatar should be so inventive a storyteller that a single game of football – the World Cup final – can, for 90 minutes, bind so many strands of this turbulent planet together.”
The history of the FIFA World Cup often reflects important geopolitical junctures – junctures that live on through our emotional memories of the tournament.
The year 1954 was the first time West Germany lifted the trophy. Nine years after the conclusion of a war that tore Europe and the world apart – the West German national team shocked the world by triumphing over the famous Hungarian team. A West Germany that was mired in self-doubt, economic turmoil and living through a complicated relationship with nationalism was suddenly free to celebrate.
According to Der Spiegel’s edition printed the day after the final, winning the World Cup was the “founding cultural moment” of the Federal Republic.
Shift the focus onward 52 years. The World Cup in 2006 in Germany is considered one of the most memorable sporting events of contemporary history. Sixteen years post-reunification, the German nation invited the world to experience an economic powerhouse – a truly vibrant multicultural society symbolised by the flowing attacking play of its youthful team that eventually came third. Stereotypes previously propagated about Germany were dismantled.
I have spoken to many German friends who have told me that a new national identity was cemented through hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2006. On the day after the final, The Times of London ran the headline “Never mind the finals, the true winners are Germany”. Germany 2006’s motto was “A time to make friends” – and it played out this way. Effective and efficient Germany was now fun-loving, modern, creative, and within two years was considered the most admired country brand in the world.
South Africa – despite facing severe criticism and a campaign of negative publicity in the international media – organised a remarkably successful tournament that made Africans across the continent proud. Instead of watching the rest of the world – the traditional powers – hosting and showcasing their nations’ capabilities – this was Africa’s time to demonstrate their own unique, warm hospitality, passion for football, and ability to organise an event as good as any held in the history of the FIFA World Cup.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup’s success affirmed South Africa’s arrival on the international stage and united an entire continent – as only football can – in the spirit of African pride - and we witnessed the special spectacle of every African uniting behind the Ghanaian team that eventually reached the quarter-finals.
And it is because of experiences like these that we fervently believed that it was time for the Middle East to experience its own World Cup.
Football is unquestionably the number one pastime of the Middle East. We live and breathe the game. Wherever you go in the region you’ll witness football being played – in stadiums, parks, streets, roundabouts and beaches. Football plays a vital role in the fabric of our communities. Multiple countries, multiple cultures, multiple religions – and across the Middle East I can assure you that passion for football unites us like nothing else can.
From the day we launched our bid we have maintained that the 2022 FIFA World Cup would not be Qatar’s World Cup but a World Cup for the entire Middle East. We passionately believe that this is the perfect time for an event of this magnitude to be hosted in our region.
If you switch on your television and turn on the news, the pictures reveal a world that appears to be ravaged by extreme and divisive rhetoric. It would suggest we live in a world where differences between peoples are exacerbated and utilised to enhance conflict rather than being celebrated. Hours of coverage and thousands of words are dedicated to explaining why we should fear people with different beliefs. In this climate of extremism, it is important to remember that a counter-narrative does exist.
Take the example of people in Denmark, uniting together after an attack on a synagogue in early 2015. Danes of all ethnicities and religions gathered at torch-lit memorials, singing John Lennon’s Imagine – in an expression of solidarity across communities.
In response to this 1,000 Muslims in Oslo, Norway formed a peace circle around the city’s main synagogue. In a time of fear, mistrust, and polarisation, people summoned a commitment to living together in peace and mutual respect, regardless of ethnicity and religion.
In the southern states of the US, after a series of churches were razed to the ground, a group of young Muslims started a crowdfunding initiative during the holy month of Ramadan to raise funds to help rebuild the infrastructure that had been destroyed.
It is unfortunate that events such as these only garner footnotes in our newspapers, on our websites and on our screens. Our differences should be accepted and celebrated. Our common humanity should be emphasised – we should be able to laugh at our differences and celebrate what unites us.
2022 is an important milestone for football and sport. For Qatar, the Middle East, and beyond – a platform for enhancing cultural understanding in an era where dangerous groups attempt to achieve precisely the opposite. The FIFA World Cup in 2022 is an opportunity first and foremost for the Arab world and the Middle East to showcase its true, peaceful nature to the rest of the world.
It is an opportunity for the region to be in the headlines for reasons other than conflict. It is an opportunity for people to travel to the region and delve beyond the stereotypes that have been perpetrated for decades and centuries. The importance of people-to-people relations should not be underestimated and there is no more effective vehicle for this than football, and the World Cup.
I understand that this message may sound ambitious. The Middle East’s first World Cup cannot and will not solve everything, but it can serve to sow the seeds of a better future. At this critical juncture, it is incumbent upon us to set our ambitions high with regard to what this event can achieve.
It is our responsibility to ensure that we realise our vision and to ensure that this event represents an important step on a roadmap for those of us that believe the future can and will unite instead of divide. I call upon all of you sitting here today to understand and grasp the potential of 2022.
This event must serve as a rallying point in the history of our region. I call on you to have the courage to stand above the parapet and support an event that can showcase our region and play an important role in increasing understanding between cultures.
Over 30% of the Middle East’s population is aged between 15 and 29, representing over 100mn youth – the highest proportion of youths to adults in the region’s history. To further underline my point, 55% of the Arab world’s population is under 25 and two thirds are under the age of 30. Millions of young, educated youth are entering job markets every year.
We are committed to ensuring that this event unlocks the human potential in our region and contributes to sustainable growth for the benefit of the Middle East.
Since the day we announced our intention to bid we have been cognisant of this responsibility to serve as a catalyst for realising the potential of our region and building human capabilities and capacities – and since being awarded the rights to host we have founded an academic centre of excellence for the sporting industry – the Josoor Institute – the Arabic word for “bridges”.
The Josoor Institute – in collaboration with Georgetown University - provides academic courses for young professionals in Qatar and the region with the aim of enhancing the technical skills of those already in the sporting industry and providing a foundation for those starting out.
We have also launched an initiative called “Challenge 22” which seeks to inspire the brightest young thinkers in the region to create innovative solutions that can serve to enhance the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Young innovators and entrepreneurs present their ideas and those with the best ideas are connected with research and development teams from top universities in order to assist in transforming their concepts to reality.
Our vision is to provide a platform for creativity and entrepreneurship and to ensure that the finest young minds in our region are part of the fabric of the World Cup in 2022.
Between now and 2022 we will continue striving to ensure that the youth of our region play an integral role in our tournament preparations. We want you all to come to Qatar and feel that this is a Middle Eastern World Cup. You will be welcomed by the people of our region – on Qatari soil.
We are aware that the international spotlight can place a focus on our country that can occasionally feel uncomfortable. In spite of this, we are driven by the power of our conviction and the spirit of our vision that has constantly motivated us from the day we launched our bid. We are utilising this spotlight to assist in delivering the progress to which our state is steadfastly committed to.
And I would like to point out specifically that ensuring the health, safety, security and dignity of every worker on 2022 FIFA World Cup projects is of the utmost importance to us. After almost 10mn man-hours, there have been no work-related deaths on our projects. Both country and committee are committed to genuine progressive change that is sustainable.
We are not interested in Band-Aid solutions, but instead sustainable change that ensures both short-term and long-term improvement in peoples’ lives in Qatar and beyond. You will be receiving a copy of our Workers’ Welfare progress report, which showcases our approach to this matter and demonstrates our commitment to transparency.
Since 1930, a wonderful tapestry of narratives has been weaved through the tales of the World Cup. 92 years on from 1930, in what will be the 22nd hosting of the World Cup - it will be the time for the Middle East to be given the chance to demonstrate its central role in global culture and global humanity.
Forces of destruction and dehumanisation across the world – and within in our region - have dominated the conversation and perception of our people for far too long.
It is important for the rest of the world to understand that the Middle East is more than what they see in the headlines.
It is important for the average American, Brit, German, Nigerian, Brazilian or anyone across the world to understand that people in our region are multi-dimensional like them, passionate like them, fun loving like them, and love football like them. And for the people of our region to understand that the people in the rest of the world share common values with them.
It is equally important for the people of our region to demonstrate their innovation, their humour, their passion and above all – their humanity. To respect, accept and celebrate our differences.
We believe the tales told through the 2022 FIFA World Cup can serve to achieve this.
For Qatar, for the Middle East and for the international community as a whole, this is a precious opportunity. I urge you all to join us, to support us, in ensuring that we harness this incredible potential.”
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