Football is for the people: FIFA chief
November 24 2020 11:28 PM
Gulf Times Editor-in-Chief Faisal Abdulhameed al-Mudahka with the FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
Gulf Times Editor-in-Chief Faisal Abdulhameed al-Mudahka with the FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

By Faisal Abdulhameed al-Mudahka/Editor-in-Chief

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has said the Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022 is an opportunity to bring the Arab region together and for its people to celebrate the historic event.

With less than two years to go for the World Cup – the first ever to be held in the Arab world – there is palpable excitement for the football extravaganza in the region. But there also remain concerns whether fans of neighbouring countries will be able to attend the matches in Qatar due to the current geopolitical situation.

While Qatar has reiterated often that the World Cup is for the entire Arab world and that fans from all the countries were welcome, Infantino also said he wants everyone to celebrate the Qatar World Cup.

The FIFA president, who is on a visit to Qatar and also met with His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani on Monday, said he was confident that everyone in the Gulf region will celebrate the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“Of course, if there are any obstacles for people traveling from the region, we have to look at it. In this region, there are millions of people and all of them should be able to attend and celebrate the largest football event in the world,” he said, during an interaction with editors of Qatari newspapers on Tuesday.

“The World Cup is coming to the Arab world. And we want everyone in the region to be able to share this experience and let us emphasise that politics should remain in its place, far from sports. And I would personally, of course, do whatever I can and even more to convince everyone that we have to celebrate this World Cup. The politics and other issues will hopefully sort themselves out. And what do people want? It is to celebrate this tournament. And we will give them this opportunity to be part of this amazing World Cup,” he added.

Infantino said the pan-Arab tournament, which Qatar will host next year, will be an ideal preparation for the World Cup, which will kick off on November 21, 2022. The new tournament was proposed earlier this year by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy and was subsequently approved by the FIFA Council.

The pan-Arab tournament will act as a crucial preparatory event for the World Cup. The 22-team invitational tournament will be contested by Arab nations from Africa and Asia. The tournament, which will be held in Qatar from December 1-18, 2021, will allow the organisers to use facilities and run operations that are also planned for the subsequent World Cup.

The tournament will take place during the same time slot as the FIFA World Cup 2022, with the final taking place exactly one year before the Qatar 2022 final.

Infantino on Tuesday shed more light on the proposed event. “Next year in December, we will organise here in Qatar the FIFA pan-Arab Cup. It is a new competition that replaces to some extent the old Confederations Cup,” the top FIFA official said.

“It is a competition in which, and I would like to think all 22 Arab countries in the world, 12 in Asia and 10 in Africa, have accepted the invitation to participate. It will be held in the World Cup stadiums, and will bring together Arabs from Yemen to Morocco. The national teams will come here and they will be classified according to FIFA rankings. Twelve teams will play in the preliminary round, which will be followed by the participation of 16 teams, and 32 matches will be held in the tournament that will be watched by about 450 million Arab fans. I hope that they will show their best in the World Cup stadiums and that Arab fans from all over the world will be able to come to Qatar and enjoy the tournament and celebrate here in Qatar,” Infantino said.

The FIFA president also urged fans to come and experience the rich cultural heritage, the hospitality of the people in Qatar and advised the media to portray positive aspects of the country.

“People who will come here will discover a different reality from what they know. There are, unfortunately, lots of prejudices in the world. They will discover that this is not the case and will know Qatar is a welcoming country, it’s an open country and that there is great hospitality and it's safe. And this will open the eyes of many people, and I think that you should focus on these aspects to help promote the country and the whole region, because this is the World Cup. I know that there are issues and all these kinds of things, hopefully they will disappear sooner rather than later,” he said.

“You know, we are here for sport and it’s not about politics. And for the people, I think it is important to learn the reality of this part of the world. And the World Cup will put the spotlight on Qatar and this part of the world. And that for me is really a way to promote the country. You should do it because people will ask you. Focus on the positive side of Qatar,” Infantino added.

Infantino, who visited the under-construction Lusail Stadium, which will host the World Cup final, said he was “extremely pleased” with progress of World Cup-related projects.

Qatar had marked the two-year countdown to the World Cup on Saturday and had announced that its fourth World Cup venue, Al Rayyan Stadium, would be inaugurated on Qatar National Day (December 18) when it will stage the Amir Cup final.

Khalifa International, Al Janoub and Education City stadiums are already open and are currently hosting the AFC East Zone matches. Another World Cup venue, the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, is also awaiting inauguration. Infantino said the World Cup stadiums will leave a lasting legacy.

“Personally, on the infrastructure, I'm extremely, extremely pleased. This would be a unique World Cup. This will be the best World Cup ever for many reasons. Because it is very compact, because you can watch physically four matches a day. And you can do that by travelling from one stadium to the other, because they are using the beautiful metro that exists,” he said.

“The stadiums where the matches will take place are one beautiful than the other. They are all state of the art. It takes ages even to plan, and to witness it is just a miracle. All eight World Cup stadiums are among the best stadiums in the world. And the general infrastructure in the country, starting from the airlines – the Qatar Airways to the airport, to the environment, the safety and security is all perfect. The experience you are preparing for people to come is exceptional. This would be a unique World Cup and the preparations are very much advanced. Preparations are more than on top. I have been in UEFA for 16 years, organising European Championships. But I have never witnessed a country that has been ready so well ahead of the World Cup.”

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