Qatar 2022 Chief: "The First Half is Over"

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Al Thawadi (Qatar 2022)
(WFI) Organizing committee chief Hassan Al Thawadi admits the six years since Qatar secured 2022 World Cup hosting rights against the advice of FIFA’s bidding inspection team have been “challenging”.

Mired in allegations of corruption that blighted the 2022 bidding race when 22 FIFA officials voted in favour of Qatar, tournament preparations have been tarnished by the fall-out from the scandals. Qatar's bid offer was branded "high risk" by FIFA's bidding inspection team just weeks before the FIFA ExCo vote on Dec. 2, 2010. Concerns over staging the competition in the sizzling heat of the Qatari summer later led to FIFA moving it to winter, throwing the European leagues and their competitions into chaos.

“Whenever you’re trying to launch something off the ground you’re always going to find growing pains, getting things up and running, assigning main contractors for stadiums, as well as some of the other challenges,” Al Thawadi said without specifically referencing the slew of challenges that have faced 2022 organisers.

“That was a chapter, now we can say we’re looking at the second half of the game. The first half is over, we’re looking at the coming six years,” the secretary general of Qatar 2022’s supreme committee for delivery & legacy said in an interview published on FIFA.com.

“The preparations are in full swing, momentum has picked up and we’re moving at a very good pace in terms of delivery of projects, stadiums, infrastructure and initiatives surrounding the World Cup.”

Al Thawadi, who led the bid team which triumphed six years ago today, added: “For me it is a moment of reflection, significant lessons learnt, and a very slight pat on the back because everyone in the Supreme Committee deserves a pat on the back. And then it's heads down, eyes forward.”

Eight stadiums are now under construction. The main contractor for Lusail Stadium, the biggest and most expensive piece of the World Cup puzzle – a new city is being built – came on board this week.

Qatari contractor HBK and China Railway Construction Corporation Limited is the joint-venture chosen. British architectural firm Foster + Partners completed the schematic design of the 80,000-seater stadium earlier this year. The venue, located in Lusail City 20km north of Doha, is scheduled for completion by 2020 and will host the opening and final matches of the World Cup.

Looking to 2017, al Thawadi said significant construction work would take place with the first venue, Khalifa International Stadium, to be delivered to host the Emir Cup final. So you’ll find significant construction going on next year.

Asked about how he has dealt with Qatar’s fiercest critics, Al Thawadi insisted Qatar 2022 had responded to and addressed the concerns.

“A lot of them are based on misinformation, once you’re able to approach them with facts and show them where they are misinformed, it creates a bridge, but at the same time it is important for us to listen to their criticism,” he said.

“We always welcome anybody who wants to provide constructive criticism, and we want to sit on the same table and listen to what’s being said. It’s no good closing the doors on people, that is not what 2022 stands for.”

Among the most prominent critics have been Amnesty International and other human rights groups, who have highlighted the poor conditions and abuse suffered by migrant workers involved in the World Cup building effort.

But Al Thawadi was not asked about changes to the welfare of the migrant workforce that have been slow in arriving.

Despite promises by the Qatari government, a revamp of the controversial kafala system of tied employment, which places sever restrictions on workers’ rights, has still not been introduced. Reports suggest these changes may come later this month.

In a separate interview on Qatar’s World Cup website earlier this week, assistant secretary general for tournament affairs Nasser Al Khater addressed the issue. “Progress on workers’ welfare, not just in the supreme committee but within the country as a whole, has taken great strides forward,” he said.

“We’ve seen the benefits that our workers’ welfare standards have had for workers, and other organisations have recognised these benefits by instituting similar standards into their contracts. We see that progress taking shape on the ground, and others have followed suit. By mid-December 2016, Qatar is going to announce the new labour law.”

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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