Published on December 2nd, 2010 | by Alan Abrahamson1
Qatar: soccer in 2022, Olympics an inevitability
The 2022 World Cup selection Thursday marks less a rejection of the United States than an affirmation of Qatar even as it underscores just what a challenge it’s going to be to convince the International Olympic Committee in the coming years to send the Games back to the United States.
There are other places in the world. They deserve their chances, too.
And there’s almost no place that’s as deserving of its chance as Qatar.
I have been to Doha twice, the first time in 2006 for the Asian Games and then again this past March for track and field’s indoor world championships.
The sports facilities already on the ground in Doha are, in every regard, world-class, including the Aspire Dome, where they ran the world indoors. As Seb Coe, the 2012 Summer Games chief, made plain to me when he and I were walking around the facility, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything anywhere better.
With Doha and Qatar, the trick is always just getting people to see for themselves what it’s all about — moving past perceptions and stereotypes and confronting reality, a nation that not only wants to be but eminently deserves to be part of a vibrant 21st century world order.
To me, it was always a foregone conclusion that FIFA would go to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. Russia is on the move. Qatar, too.
To its credit — and sometimes it’s hard to assign the byzantine FIFA much credit — soccer’s worldwide governing body has consistently been willing in recent years to make the sorts of leaps of faith that inexorably lead to Thursday’s results.
Here’s to the hope that the FIFA balloting was actually done fairly and in good faith, and the suspicion that reigns in so many quarters about the 2018 and 2022 process, amplified by the corruption scandal that dogged FIFA in the weeks before the vote, will not in years to come explode into even-grander scandal.
Assuming a credible vote — and, granted, given everything involving FIFA, that might well be a big assumption — Russia and Qatar always seemed the choices.
Britain? Um, why?
The United States? Been there, done that. Sure, 1994 was great. But that was then.
China, South Africa, Brazil, Russia, Qatar — those places are now.
The Olympics have already been to China, in 2008. They’re going to be in Russia, in Sochi in 2014. They’re going to Rio de Janeiro in 2016. South Africa? Someday, and the IOC members are going to see Durban for themselves when they gather there this July for the committee’s annual all-delegates assembly.
The World Cup is not the Olympic Games; the scale and scope of the Games is far bigger than one soccer tournament. Even so, it’s inevitable that one day the Games will go to Qatar. And Doha will be eminently deserving.
The good news for the Qataris is that they now have 12 years to showcase what they’re all about.
They have a great story to tell, and now an audience that’s going to be way more inclined to listen. And that’s their biggest challenge — telling their story to almost everyone else in the world, because very few travelers traditionally have been there. Doha is not Florence or Paris or Madrid.
Not yet, anyway.
Once you’ve been to Doha, you get it, and you get it immediately.
It’s not just that the pace of construction there is fantastic. The buildings that are going up — they’re fantastic-looking, too.
The architecture is, in a word, stunning. To stand on the deck of the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art and gaze across the bay at the Doha skyline — it’s breathtaking.
And the museum itself — it’s incredible.
Some of the leading universities in the United States have quietly been setting up branch operations in recent years in Doha. Northwestern, where I went to journalism school, now runs full-fledged journalism and communications programs in Doha. Anyone who knows how inherently conservative American universities can be knows how remarkable it is that Northwestern, and others, including Carnegie Mellon, have adopted such forward-looking strategies.
They wouldn’t be there unless there was sound reason.
Okay, it’s hot in Doha, and more so in the summer. So what? It’s hot in Chicago at a Cubs’ game in mid-summer, too. Sit in the bleachers at Wrigley Field for four-plus hours on a hot and humid August afternoon and then tell me Chicago doesn’t deserve to have a baseball team — or, for that matter, two — because it’s hot? That’s just dumb.
This past March, I was among the first group of international sports journalists to see the cooling technology that’s going to be featured prominently at the soccer stadiums in and around Doha in 2022. It cools the stadiums and the seats down to about 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
It works, and it’s incredibly cool, literally and figuratively.
The Qataris have money — they’re sitting on an immense deposit of natural gas that might well sustain their economy for this century and beyond — and, more importantly, the will.
Don’t ever doubt that. They have the will.