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‘It’s our time to shine’: Qataris on World Cup hosting

Doha, Qatar – When Qatar was announced as the host of the 2022 World Cup 12 years ago, Aisha al-Ali and her husband had recently married and were starting construction on their new home in Rawdat al-Hamama, a neighboring town to Lusail, the second largest city. largest in Qatar. .

Her husband had some doubts, saying the location was too remote, but she assured him that with the tournament coming up, “I’m sure Qatar will change.”

She was right. In just over a decade, roads, highways, and bridges were built that easily connect the entire country.

Since being granted hosting rights in 2010, Qatar has spent more than $200 billion developing and improving infrastructure, including building seven new soccer stadiums.

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“We only had 12 years to build the infrastructure, build these roads, make sure [Qatar] it has public transportation and easy access roads to all the stadiums,” says al-Ali, a mother of three in her 40s.

“Getting from my new house to my in-laws or parents, back then it took me half an hour, now it takes me 15 minutes,” he says, referring to the roads and paths built over time.

“We are very proud to host the World Cup and the achievements Qatar has made,” says al-Ali, adding that the event itself is a “moment” he has been waiting for since 2010.

As it is the first time that a Muslim Arab country in the Middle East hosts “a big event like the World Cup… it is our time to shine,” al-Ali said.

“It is our moment to show the world that we are part of you, we are as good as you are to house it. Sport unites all nations.

“It’s not just Qatar that’s hosting the World Cup, it’s the whole region that’s hosting it.”

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‘An event for the world to enjoy’

Sheikh Suhaim al-Thani, 31, a manager of the Qatar Free Zones Authority, which helps foreign companies wanting to work in the country, told Al Jazeera that the sporting event is not just a Qatari achievement, but one “for all Arabs, Muslims and anyone.” who really enjoys football”.

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“Qatar is the smallest country that has ever been able to accommodate the needs of a tournament of this type,” said al-Thani, visibly proud.

The entire country comprises just 11,586 square kilometers (4,473 square miles), making it smaller than the Australian city of Sydney. It’s just a 200 km (124 mi) journey to reach the northernmost point of Qatar from the south of the peninsula.

Al-Thani will watch eight games at the stadiums, but has planned fun nights with his friends for other games in his majlis, a traditional room in Qatari homes where friends, family and community members gather to socialize.

Sheikh Suhaim al-Thani
“Qatar is the smallest country that has ever been able to accommodate the needs of such a tournament,” Sheikh Suhaim al-Thani said. [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

The aroma of the Arabic incense popularly known as bakhur fills the air in her majlis, an enlarged part of her home on the outskirts of the Qatari capital, Doha.

Al-Thani believes the event can show skeptics in the West how an Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern country can successfully pull off such a huge event.

He said he feels the general narrative in the Western media about Qatar hosting the Cup has been negative and unbalanced.

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“These [media] the accounts do not describe how much Qatar has transformed over the years,” he said.

“Qatar has transformed beyond recognition in recent years, we are greener, there is a lot of innovation, digital transformation. It’s all come together just in time for the World Cup. This is celebration time,” she said.

changes in society

For 21-year-old Maha Kafoud, a student who has been studying psychology in Melbourne, Australia, it’s not just the country’s infrastructure that she has seen change dramatically over the years.

Since he last returned to Qatar for a visit in January 2020, he has begun to notice changes within Qatari society.

“Before, if a Qatari woman didn’t wear an abaya, everyone would get scared, look at her and judge her. But ever since I came back, I’ve been wearing hoodies and going around Doha to all the new places and stuff, and nobody really cares,” Kafoud said.

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“I have been seeing [Qatari] men and women together and no one flinches when they see that either,” he said, adding that with so many people coming to Qatar from all over the world, change is “an expected thing.”

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Since returning earlier this month to watch the World Cup, Kafoud said the country feels “even more forward-thinking and welcoming… all this while still holding on to our culture and traditions.”

Showing ‘our culture’

Kafoud attended the opening ceremony on Sunday with his father, an avid soccer fan who played the sport for 20 years when he founded his own local team in Qatar called Al-Matar Al-Qadeem.

“That was a historic event that I will remember for the rest of my life,” Kafoud said.

“We really show our culture to the whole world… Knowing that millions of people have seen our dancing, heard our songs, heard the Qur’an played; It was such a beautiful thing.”

Sword dancers at the opening ceremony.
Sword dancers are seen at the opening ceremony at Al Bayt Stadium in Doha, Qatar. [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman narrated the opening segment, telling viewers, “We all come together here in one big tribe.”

Joining Freeman was Ghanim al-Muftah, a 20-year-old Qatari who was born with a rare condition that affects the development of the lower spine. He recited a verse from the Holy Quran calling for global unity.

“O humanity! In fact, we created them from a male and a female, and we made them into towns and tribes so that they know each other,” she recited.

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For the opening match in which Qatar played Ecuador, around 60,000 fans packed the Al Bayt Stadium in the city of Al-Khor, the exterior of which was designed to resemble a traditional Bedouin tent.

Fireworks, songs and dances marked the opening ceremony, with performances that mixed traditional Qatari themes with other cultures.

“It was a huge proud moment for me and I think for all Qataris as well, even foreigners… we all were left crying,” Kafoud said.

“I don’t think that’s been done before, where [Qataris] We were able to show a part of our Arab and Muslim heritage to the whole world.”

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[Al Jazeera]
Some 60,000 fans packed the Al Bayt stadium, whose exterior was designed to resemble a traditional Bedouin tent. [Katya Bohdan/Al Jazeera]

Hopes for more changes

Even after the World Cup is over, Kafoud said she is “eager to see the change” she hopes will follow.

“I hope that these 28 days influence [Qatari] society is more open-minded and more welcoming to foreigners in general. Although there are many foreigners here, there are more foreigners than Qataris, but there is a division, a separation, and I hope that after the World Cup there will be more unity.”

The al-Ali family and their three sons are excited to see soccer matches in person and bought tickets to six different games at various stadiums to get “the full experience.”

Their home, which they previously worried was too isolated, is now close to one of the stadiums hosting the tournament in Lusail, including matches with Portugal and Argentina, teams the family will cheer on from the stands.

“We are fans of [Argentina’s Lionel] Messi and [Portugal’s Cristiano] Ronaldo and I understand that it’s his last World Cup… so it’s good to come and see,” al-Ali said.

“I’ve been to the Arab Cup and I’ve been to the Asian Cup, so it’s very exciting now to attend a World Cup… Qatar brought us the World Cup, so we have to take advantage of it, attend it and experience it. .”

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