In 2009, Qatar applied to host FIFA World Cup finals in 2022. Many doubted that such a small conservative Arab country would be able to do it. For it is the first time that an Arab and Muslim country hosts this global event since it was inaugurated in 1930, so the eyes of all people around the world, even those who are not football fans, stared towards Qatar.
Immediately after awarding the FIFA World Cup 2022 to Qatar in 2010, questions about Qatar trended on google search engine. What is Qatar? Why was Qatar awarded this World Cup finals? One of the most frequent questions was: Does Qatar meet the requirements that make a successful World Cup tournament?
In fact, bidding to host the World Cup was part of Qatar's National Vision 2030 laid down by strategists the year before the host application –in 2008. This vision aims that – by 2030 – Qatar becomes an advanced society, capable of sustaining its development and providing a high standard of living for its people.
Historically, international cinema disregarded the brilliant stages of the Arab region and the development and advanced science and culture it exported to the world, and depicted it as a desert with primitive inhabitants, riding camels living in it. This planted a negative mental image about the Arabs and their culture.
Along with the aim to change this mental image about the Arab region, Qatar also decided to change the Islamophobic stereotypical image adopted by most of the non-Muslim nations around the world. So Qatar, apparently, hosted the FIFA World Cup 2022 tournament, but it actually promoted it as an Arab and Islamic event.
Qatar spent a total of between $220 and $230 billion on the preparation for the tournament, while the stadiums needed to host the football matches for the 32 international teams scheduled to compete during the tournament are worth only $7 billion. Most of the money spent on projects laid down on the national vision of the country.
It built the most modern transportation network, hotels and other facilities to be used by the football fans and other guests during the tournament. These facilities were also planned to modernisation of the country and, at the same time, preserve traditions, meet the needs of the current and future generations and manage economic growth and social development.
Through the tournament, Qatar planned to increase its influence over the international audiences, improve its international status in order to raise the level of its international relations. To reach this goal, it did its best and spent much money to present the most environmentally friendly sporting event.
Dr Paul Michael Brannagan, senior lecturer in Sport Management and Policy at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Danyel Reiche, visiting Professor at Georgetown University in Qatar, have spent the best part of the past 12 years since Qatar won the right to host the tournament analysing what has gone right and what has gone wrong, The Times said. It reported them as saying that Qatar 2022 "might become one of the most environmentally friendly mega sporting events of all time."
In fact, hosting the FIFA World Cup tournament is part of its utilising sport in promoting a modern image about Qatar, which had been recently boycotted by neighbour countries over claims of sponsoring terrorism. In 2011, Qatar's Emir, Tamim bin Hamad, acquired most of the stakes of the French Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) Club through Qatari Sports Investment, which became the Club's sole owner in March 2012.
Under the chairman, Nasser Al Khalaifi, the Club has become the richest club around the globe after its bankruptcy. It has become among the most rich sports clubs regarding revenues. Qatar's acquiring of Paris Saint-Germain made all French and most Europeans know it, its culture, its religion, its traditions and its development and modernisation.
The successful preparations of Qatar for the World Cup tournament pushed the Arab countries which boycotted it to repair their relations in order to use the opportunity to present themselves the way they want, to at least half of the earth inhabitants.
James Montague, author of 'The Billionaires Club: The Unstoppable Rise of Football's Super-rich Owners,' was reported by the CNN as saying: "Owning a football club, sponsoring a stadium, having your name on a shirt, being seen in over 200 countries around the world, week in, week out, without any kind of negative connotations feeding into people's homes: That is an incredibly powerful tool to mold an image on an international stage."
He also said: "Namely, to be at the very top table of European soccer, signing top players in their prime and appearing to be just as attractive an option as Barcelona and Real Madrid. This adds to the power of PSG's brand, which ultimately helps to promote Qatar internationally."
Qatar had promoted its World Cup campaign as a showing of Arab unity from the beginning, positioning the World Cup as an opportunity to build bridges between the Arab and the Western worlds, but it made it clear that this would not be at the expense of its culture, traditions and religion.
Major General Abdulaziz Abdullah Al Ansari, Head of Security for the FIFA World Cup, said the tournament, which would last for just 28 days, will not force Qatar to change its religion. Supreme Committee for "Delivery a Legacy" which, since its formation in 2011, has been responsible for overseeing the infrastructure projects and planning for the World Cup, said: "Everyone is welcome in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon. We simply ask for people to respect our culture."
Meanwhile, Qatar has invited the most renowned Muslim preachers, including Zakir Naik, Sheikh Omar Abdul Kafi, Said Al Kamali and others in order to present the true image about Islam to the football fans. It also opened its beautiful mosques to non-Muslim visitors, distributed fliers and is organising preaching campaign through the stadiums, hotels and gatherings of foreign fans.
For the first time, Azan –Muslim call for prayer– is being heard during the FIFA World Cup matches and games are sometimes stopped until the end of Azan. Qatar insisted that the gay community would not be allowed and alcohol would be banned. For the first time, the tournament started with recitation of the Holy Quran.
In fact, international teams will win the FIFA World Cup 2022, but Qatar will win everything and, the good thing, it is making this victory not for Qatar, but for all Arabs and Muslims.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.