FIFA Says Qatar 2022 World Cup Bid Faces "Logistical Challenges"

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Sheikh Mohammed bin-Hamad bin-Khalifa al-Thani and FIFA inspection chairman Harold Mayne-Nicholls (WFI/J.Corbett)
(WFI) FIFA World Cup bid inspection chairman, Harold Mayne-Nicholls, has tonight cast doubt on whether a country Qatar's size can host the 2022 tournament in comments made at the end of his team’s three-day evaluation of the country's bid.

Mayne-Nicholls praised many aspects of the Qatari bid, including its commitment to international legacy, but said that the Gulf kingdom’s size posed “logistical challenges”.

Qatar’s bid team immediately staged a PR fightback, which included the shock unveiling of Zinedine Zidane as a bid ambassador, a reaffirmation of the bid’s key principle as a “compact” finals and an astute appeal to regional nationalism.

Bid officials insisted that the concept of a compact World Cup was a worthy one, but acknowledged that it was a concept many people would take time to get used to.

Qatar bid chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin-Hamad bin-Khalifa al-Thani added that it was “time for the Middle East to host the World Cup".

In an afternoon of unexpected drama, Mayne-Nicholls took the opportunity to praise Qatar’s efforts to meet FIFA’s exacting technical requirements.

Referencing his first visit to the country at the time of the 1995 FIFA World Youth Cup, the Chilean FA president said that Qatar had come “a long way” in the subsequent 15 years, both in terms of football and development growth. He praised the central role the Qatari government envisaged for the game in its national masterplan.

“Qatar is a very fast-growing nation and the government’s plans for the next two decades are very ambitious,” said Mayne-Nicholls.

“Football plays a key role in the national masterplan.”

Mayne-Nicholls then turned to the question of a country of Qatar’s size staging the tournament.

Although he cast no doubt on Qatar’s ambitious development plans, he suggested that a World Cup being awarded to the Gulf kingdom may pose logistical problems.

“Qatar has the potential to host a sporting event, such as the FIFA World Cup,” he said.

“But it would pose a number of logistical challenges.

“A World Cup in the Middle East would be a tournament with the shortest distance possible. The stadiums would be in a maximum traveling time of an hour. In most of the cases, even shorter.

“So far we have only once had a tournament with a similar concept with a minimum of travelling distance, and that was the first World Cup ever staged, in Uruguay in 1930, with ten teams playing in two stadiums in the same city.

“That was
Zinedine Zidane with bid CEO Hassan al-Thawadi (WFI/J.Corbett)
over 80 years ago, but the scope of the event, as we all know, has changed dramatically.

"Nowadays we have 32 teams competing and in the last edition in South Africa we had more than 80,000 accredited persons, including about 15,000 media representatives not to mention the 100,000s of thousands of football fans travelling.”

Qatar 2022 hits back in PR blitz
Mayne-Nicholls acknowleged Qatar’s assurances to meet those needs and that many of those plans "are already under way".

It was a theme that Sheikh Mohammed built on in his closing remarks.

“Logistically we understand the challenges, we’ve always been honest about our bid,” he said.

“We know when we say it’s a compact World Cup that in terms of traveling times, traveling distances it sounds like a great idea for fans, for teams.

“But we do understand that this is a different concept that we have to work on it every step of the way to deliver something that’s strong and this is what we’re going to do.”

He repeated his assertion that it was time for the region to host the World Cup.

Afterwards bid CEO Hassan al-Thawadi answered questions from a packed press conference.

Asked by INSIDER if FIFA’s apparent willingness to overlook a country on the grounds of physical size – no matter how well they may have fulfilled its technical requirements – contravened its commitment to fair play, al-Thawadi said that he didn’t think that FIFA would do so and that he was confident the bid had “the solutions” to face down the challenge.

“It is a new idea and it will take some people time to get used to, but I have full confidence that we can put to people that it’s possible,” he said.

Qatar’s bid team then unveiled a PR masterstroke – Zinedine Zidane – the greatest footballer of his generation, and greatest footballer of Arab-extraction of all time – as its latest bid ambassador.

To a hush of excitement from the masses of Arab media present, Zidane’s life story – from his humble origins in the dirt-poor banlieues of Marseilles to World Cup glory for France at the 1998 World Cup – was shown in a stylish three-minute film.

Zidane then emerged from a side-room and answered questions from the press.

“I started from zero point. There were many people around me who helped me and I am here to help them,” he said.

“Qatar has the chance to develop itself. We did that in France and won the Cup.”

Zidane seemed to make the distinction between just supporting Qatar’s bid and an historic mission to bring the World Cup to the Middle East.

“I am supporting football because football belongs to everyone, for all,” he said.

“We had [the World Cup] in Africa and now it is time for the Middle East.”

INSIDER is attending this week's media tour as a guest of the Qatar 2022 bid committee which paid for the trip.

By INSIDER’s James Corbett

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