Gulf Goals Qatar Has High Hopes for 2022 World Cup
Part 2: Rules Will Be Relaxed during the World Cup
The Islamic cultural center Fanar stands on Doha's Corniche waterfront promenade, beyond the skyscraper construction sites. Its tower, spiraling into the pale sky, is designed to give "humanity a guiding light." Ahmed Ijas, the director of the center, suggested that deeply religious people book a trip to Mecca during the weeks of the World Cup. Ijas says that his remark was misunderstood, and adds: "We are pleased that the World Cup is coming to Qatar." It's just that certain rules will have be observed, he points out.
Doha's luxury hotels have been serving alcohol for a long time. The government is considering expanding the area where alcohol consumption is permitted for the duration of the World Cup. For four weeks, the holy Koran will be suspended in specially marked "fan zones," where beer and bratwurst will be served. This is what FIFA expects from Qatar.
One of the party zones is in Al-Rumaila Park, within sight of the Fanar center. Ijas doesn't have a problem with this. "Islam doesn't prohibit men from taking their shirts off. But they should be covered from the navel to the knees." But Ijas, who lived in England for many years, knows that after 16 pints, few fans can tell where their navels or knees are.
The country's clerics seem to have adjusted to the idea of being lenient for four weeks. There had been concerns over how Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi would react to the FIFA decision. The president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars lives in Doha and is known as a hardliner and an anti-Semite. But in his Friday prayer, the sheikh expressed his delight over the World Cup decision -- even after the ruling family had made it clear that a team from Israel, complete with its fans, would also be welcome.
Qatar's overall level of counterterrorism cooperation with the United States is "considered the worst in the region," the US State Department writes in one of the leaked embassy cables. But Qatar is one of the Arab countries that have issued visas to Israeli athletes, including 3,000-meter runner Gezachw Yossef, who attended the World Indoor Track & Field championships in Doha in March.
Too Much Cash
Allah has given the faithful of this tiny nation one of the world's largest reserves of natural gas. This is an even more attractive asset than oil wealth, because liquid gas burns more cleanly than oil, and demand is expected to grow.
Qatar has only one problem: what to do with its money. Qatar Holding, a subsidiary of one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds, already owns Harrods, the London high-end department store, and parts of Volkswagen. The Qatar Foundation will soon be advertising on the jerseys of FC Barcelona, a deal which will cost it 165 million between now and 2016.
Last week, the German construction company Hochtief announced that the Qataris would acquire about 10 percent of its shares. As a result of the investment, it is clear that Hochtief will be building most of the World Cup stadiums and the world's longest link between countries, a bridge from Qatar to the island nation of Bahrain.
Deutsche Bahn AG, the German national railway, has been awarded the contract to build Doha's new 320-kilometer metro system, and a southwestern German company will apparently supply the air-conditioning systems for the World Cup stadiums.
As an exporting nation, Germany stands to make more money on the desert World Cup than it did on its own World Cup in 2006. Qatar's bid book, weighing in at five kilograms (11 pounds), was the work of the Frankfurt architecture firm Albert Speer & Partners and two German project development companies. Speer has designed eight of the nine new stadiums. If it goes well, "Qatar 2022" could trigger a wave of modernization throughout the region by the time the first match begins.
'I Wouldn't Bet on Qatar Being Eliminated'
The Aspire Zone sports complex on the outskirts of Doha includes the Khalifa Stadium, performance laboratories, a sports clinic, the Aspire Mosque, a swimming pool and a towering hotel that looks like an Olympic torch. It also has the world's largest covered sports arena, which cost $1 billion alone. It took less than 22 months to build the entire complex on the desert floor.
For Qatar's ruling family, the Thanis, Aspire is its strongest asset in the international business of sports. Financially strapped national teams, the Iraqis, for example, can train there for free. Since 2004, talented young football players have been trained there on a global scale. Most are Qataris and other local residents, but 5 percent are scholarship holders, mainly from Africa. The facility's 300 experts come from 60 countries, and there is also a branch in Senegal.
Andreas Bleicher is the sports director at the Aspire academy. A native of Germany's southwestern Swabia region, Bleicher once headed the German Olympic base in Leverkusen near Cologne. "I wouldn't bet on Qatar's team being eliminated in the group round in 2022," he says. "A player who got started five years ago as an eight-year-old will be of an ideal age by then."
Qatar pays for "Football Dreams," a worldwide talent-search program. Bleicher objects to the charge that the program is merely an excuse for Qatar to snap up African talent. "The boys have all gone back to their countries, where they are now playing on the under-17 teams in Ghana, Mali and the Ivory Coast," he says. The program generates goodwill for Qatar, which translates into votes in the relevant committees.