In as dramatic a turnaround off the pitch, as we have seen on the pitch, Qatar has turned former foes of their hosting of the World Cup into friends and critics into passionate supporters, one unexpected goal at a time.
Newscasters, former FIFA inspectors, and ex-footballers, some moderately against Qatar hosting the World Cup and some vehemently so, have taken to social media to publicly express they are impressed. The press tide is turning for the Middle Eastern nation, earning points for the football, the atmosphere and the organisation.
Nigel Seeley, member of England’s supporters’ club describes his experience, “The spirit and the excitement from a nation is something that we should all learn from in the Premier League in England. I was at the 2021 Euro final at Wembley between England and Italy, and I was embarrassed by my country and football. I have fallen back in love with both on my Qatar trip. From somebody who was concerned about coming to Qatar originally, I would return in a heartbeat. I have never been to a football match where I have sat next to a family from Oman, a guy from Saudi, two rows in front of fans from Cameroon, Tunisia, Morocco behind Japanese, Canadians and Americans.”
Seeley sees himself as a guest when attending a tournament abroad. “Whether in the US or Qatar, the same rule applies, I am there to judge the football, the fans and the organisation, not the politics” adding that “the focus in interviews has been on LGBTQ+, human rights and not being allowed to drink at stadiums. Drinking wasn’t allowed in stadiums in the early part of the EPL and I have been to Champions League matches where drinking isn’t allowed. Over thousands of football matches worldwide, I can count on one hand how many times I have drunk alcohol inside a stadium! I go to the pub before to meet friends and then we go to the game. The same here (in Doha)”.
On the logistics and capacity to host a world-class sporting event of this magnitude, Seeley concludes “I have been very fortunate to attend sporting events worldwide and I can honestly say that from a logistical perspective the World Cup 2022 has been the best, not only football tournament but sporting event I have ever attended”.
Football reporters seem uneasy and cautious about praising Qatar outright, but the message is clear, they are enjoying it enough to write home. Mark Pougatch, English freelance radio and television broadcaster, Chief Sport Presenter for ITV Sport, says he is “conflicted”. He took to twitter from Doha “It has been interesting looking at the fans and at those who have made the most noise. Senegal, incredibly colourful… Ghana, Saudi Arabia,… Iran, the Iranians against Wales were absolutely fantastic… the colour, the noise and the vibrancy they brought, further proof this is a global game. It’s not just the preserve of the Europeans and the South Americans. Banning beer in the grounds doesn’t seem to be the world’s worst idea… There’s none of the aggro, let’s be blunt… At the halfway point, maybe a lot of us are starting to feel a little conflicted and thinking ‘this is going quite smoothly! Are we allowed to feel that?’ So far, it’s actually been a very good and very interesting experience.”
Chair of evaluation for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup, former FIFA official Harold Mayne-Nicholls openly criticised the organisers decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, warning that Qatar would present very hot weather conditions that posed a health risk to players and spectators. Mayne-Nicholls, a major critic, Instagram-videoed his followers last week with the message “I have been in Qatar for two weeks… I can say that I am really surprised – they have organised a wonderful World Cup!” going on to praise the logistics, the training centre’s conditions and the stadiums and the country’s emir. “Now we have two weeks until we have a new world champion”.
FIFA announced that the opening stages delivered a record-breaking number of goals, the most there has ever been since the round of 16 was introduced in 1986 so it comes as no surprise that the experts are excited. Politics aside, Qatar’s World Cup has provided valuable lessons for tournament organisers the world over and has conquered mountains, swaying football commentators, specialists, and aficionados to speak about the football, the host nation, and the experience in a way they themselves could not predict.