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Qatar's moment of truth has come

The moment of truth for Qatar's ability to organise the World Cup after years of failed overtures and criticism over labour rights and strict laws has come.

NEYMAR JR of Brazil during the International Friendly football match between Brazil and Ghana on September 23, 2022 at Oceane Stadium in Le Havre, France - Photo Matthieu Mirville / DPPI (Photo by Matthieu Mirville / Matthieu Mirville / DPPI via AFP)
Neymar, one of Brazil's stars, during the International Friendly between Brazil and Ghana in September. Photo: MATTHIEU MIRVILLE

Predicaments began mounting as early as December 2010 when it was announced that Qatar would host the finals amid a storm of international criticism.

"For me it is clear: Qatar is a mistake; A bad choice," Sepp Blatter, the former president of world soccer's governing body FIFA, said last week.

Always held during the close season of the majority of leagues, it was difficult to maintain such a schedule with temperatures reaching more than 45 degrees Celsius in Qatar's blazing summers.

Two studies carried out by FIFA in 2014 and 2015 were enough to conclude that it would be impossible to hold the tournament in June-July, prompting the move to November and December.

Constructing the new stadiums witnessed many controversies regarding labour rights, amid media reports that thousands of foreign workers either lost their lives or were mistreated in the process.

Qatar responded by altering its labour laws to contain global dismay.

Additionally, Qatar's strict Islamic laws against LGBT rights or alcohol consumption faced yet another storm of criticism.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, told the United Nations General Assembly last September that his government was ready to welcome everyone from around the world without discrimination.

Qatari Olympic high jump champion Mutaz Barshim, a World Cup ambassador, said the tournament is an opportunity to unite people.

"The World Cup will positively impact our society by showcasing our culture to the world and by helping people create friendships and build networks. It is a golden opportunity to change negative perceptions about the region and create new and meaningful connections," he said in an interview with the Qatar 2022 website on Wednesday.

Qatar will be the first team since Italy in the second World Cup in 1934 to participate in the finals for the first time as a host without having previously qualified for the tournament.

In order to avoid a similar fate to that of Switzerland, Chile and South Africa, who all hosted but exited the finals in the group stages in 1954, 1962 and 2010, the Qatar team has undergone a thorough process of preparing for the tournament.

It started by appointing Spanish coach Felix Sanchez in 2017, whose knowledge of the region helped him guide Qatar to the 2019 Asian Cup title, winning all matches in the process.

Sanchez's men raised eyebrows with a number of notable performances, including a 3-1 defeat of Japan in the final.

The team continued its preparations by rubbing shoulders with South America's best with participation in the 2019 Copa America.

Nonetheless, the experience proved to be a little too much for the team as they finished bottom of their group following defeats by Colombia and Argentina and a draw against Paraguay.

Qatar, similarly and upon special request, took part in the CONCACAF Gold Cup last year, where they showed improvement by topping their group and beating El Salvador in the quarter-finals before losing 1-0 to United States in the semi-finals.

The team will be under pressure by fans to achieve the desired results on home soil, especially after the Qatar Federation decision not to allow their players to play for their domestic clubs since the beginning of the current season in order to devote themselves to preparations for the finals.

South Korea’s Lee?Jeonghyeop (L) and Japan’s TOMIYASU Takehiro struggle to keep a ball in the second half of the International Friendly Match between SAMURAI BLUE and Korea Republic National Team at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture on March 25, 2021. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun ) (Photo by Keita Iijima / Yomiuri / The Yomiuri Shimbun via AFP)
Japan's Takehiro Tomiyasu (right) Photo: KEITA IIJIMA

The decision to award Qatar hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup has been marred by controversy, including allegations of corruption and human rights violations, since it was first announced 12 years ago. Here is a look at the issues:

FIFA awarded the tournament to the Middle Eastern country in 2010, with the understanding it would be held during the summer, where temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

In 2015, FIFA recommended that Qatar host a shorter World Cup over the cooler months of November and December in a move that was sure to put soccer's world governing body on a collision course with the major European leagues.

The schedule change to the northern hemisphere winter marked the first time that the World Cup moved from its regular slot of June and July when Europe's lucrative domestic leagues have concluded their seasons.

The leagues will pause their 2022-23 campaigns to allow players to compete in the Nov. 20-Dec 18 World Cup.

The organisers of the 2022 World Cup have strongly denied allegations from the U.S. Department of Justice that bribes were paid to secure votes when the hosting rights for the tournament were awarded 12 years ago.

Suspicion and rumours have long surrounded both the 2010 vote by FIFA's executive to hand the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar and prosecutors set direct, formal allegations regarding both tournaments down in an indictment in 2020.

Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy -- which is responsible for the delivery of the required infrastructure and host country's planning and operations -- has rejected the charges.

Qatar 2022 CEO Nasser Al Khater told reporters when the Middle Eastern country marked a year to go for the tournament that Qatar had been "unfairly treated and scrutinised" for a number of years.

Qatar has faced intense criticism from human rights groups over its treatment of migrant workers, who with other foreigners comprise the bulk of the country's population.

A 48-page report by Amnesty, Reality Check 2021, said that practices such as withholding salaries and charging workers to change jobs were still rife, despite labour reforms in 2014.

The government of Qatar said its labour system was still a work in progress but denied allegations in the report that thousands of migrant workers in the 2022 World Cup host nation were being trapped and exploited.

Amnesty and other rights groups have led calls for FIFA to compensate migrant workers in Qatar for human rights abuses by setting aside $440 million, matching the World Cup prize money.

The Football Associations of 10 European nations, including England and Germany, have pushed FIFA to take action to improve the rights of migrant workers in Qatar.

FIFA has written to World Cup teams urging them to focus on the football in Qatar and not let the sport be dragged into ideological or political battles.

Doha Corniche and Souq Waqif show world cup figures exhibition and other tourist attractions to visitors during  Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022. on November 5, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Sidhik Keerantakath / Eyepix Group/NurPhoto) (Photo by Eyepix / NurPhoto / NurPhoto via AFP)
Photo: AFP / Nur

Homosexuality is illegal in the conservative Muslim country, and some soccer players have raised concerns for fans travelling to the event, especially lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and women, who rights groups say Qatari laws discriminate against.

But World Cup organisers have repeatedly said that everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or background, is welcome during the tournament.

Less than two weeks before the finals, Khalid Salman, a Qatar World Cup ambassador and former international, told German broadcaster ZDF that homosexuality was "damage in the mind".

He added that the country expects more than one million visitors for the World Cup and anyone coming to Qatar for the tournament should "accept our rules here".

The Australian soccer team has spoken out against Qatar's record on human rights and same-sex relationships, while Denmark's players will travel to the tournament without their families as a protest against the country's human rights record.

The Qatar World Cup is the first to be held in a Muslim country with strict controls on alcohol, presenting challenges for the organisers of an event sponsored by a beer brand and often associated with beer-drinking fans.

The country said it would let ticketed fans buy beer at matches starting three hours before kickoff and for one hour after the final whistle, but not during the match.

Plans were made to have areas for drunk fans to sober up, with tournament chief Al Khater saying the move was to make sure fans were safe and not harmful to others or themselves.

But FIFA said on Nov. 18 that alcoholic beer would not be sold at stadiums, a last-minute reversal that raised questions among some supporters about Qatar's ability to deliver on promises made to fans.

* The opening ceremony of the World Cup will take place on Monday morning (NZT), ahead of the opening Group A match between hosts Qatar and Ecuador.

* The opening ceremony will be held at the 60,000-capacity Al Bayt Stadium located 40km north of Doha.

* Named and designed after the tents used by nomads in the Gulf, the Al Bayt Stadium is the farthest venue from central Doha but also one of the biggest and has a retractable roof.

* FIFA are yet to announce a full list of performers for the 2022 World Cup opening ceremony.

* South Korea's BTS said Jungkook, one of seven members of the boy band, will perform at the ceremony.

* Other names reported to be involved in the opening ceremony include Colombian pop star Shakira, who sang the 2010 World Cup's official song, the Black Eyed Peas, Robbie Williams and Nora Fatehi, according to The Telegraph.

* British singer Dua Lipa denied a report that she was set to perform at the ceremony. Some Spanish media reports said Shakira would also not perform.

* Singer Rod Stewart told The Times he had turned down an offer of "over $1 million" to perform in Qatar.

- Reuters

source: https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/sport/479093/qatar-s-moment-of-truth-has-come