World Soccer Magazine
Rare indeed are the men and women who fight a hosting bid battle and remain standing, heading up the event’s organisation and operation, when mission and thankless hard work has paid off.
Such a man is Hassan Al Thawadi, the Liverpool supporter who studied in Scunthorpe and Sheffield, who worked up Qatar’s bid for the World Cup then oversaw the event’s creation and activation, while batting away relentless western criticism…and was still standing at the final.
Most such World Cup finals or Olympics projects run for eight or nine years, from start to finish. By contrast the Qatar World Cup effort took a fearsome 14 years out of Al Thawadi’s life.
Back in 2009, when fans and media were struggling to find Qatar on a map (let alone how to pronounce it), he told World Soccer: “Qataris love football and the idea of bringing the World Cup here one day has always been our dream.
“We have seen progress by leaps and bounds over the last ten years in so many different areas. We are pioneers and among world leaders in the fields of oil and gas. Infrastructure, building, everything. It’s given us self-belief about being able to provide a unique experience for the World Cup – unique both for ourselves and for the Middle East.”
By the way, he threw in, Qatar had the capacity to build imaginatively-designed all-new stadia, technology to cool temperatures for players and fans, and guarantee every fan could stay in the same hotel and see two matches a day. No other country had offered that boast since Jules Rimet took his sporting novelty to Uruguay in 1930.
In words that Al Thawadi would still have endorsed on the eve of the finals, he said: “There are certain misconceptions abroad about what this part of the world is all about. We want the rest of the world to come here, to see this, enjoy it, so we can open up doors for people to sit down together, united by a common love for football.”
If only it were that simple.
Soon after Qatar had spoiled then-president Sepp Blatter’s day in Zurich in December 2010 the issues of kafala and construction workers’ conditions were engaging Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Labour Organisation. Al Thawadi also had to fend off critics whose scepticism would be redoubled after the FBI laid bare the extent of FIFA corruption in 2015.
This was the year that brought another bump in the road, with FIFA’s date switch to avoid baking summer temperatures. Al Thawadi was again the lightning rod for European ire. All of it he combatted in measured tones, conceding imperfections but yielding nothing in ambitions.
Al Thawadi had to be front man, designer and diplomat as he trod a fine line between Qatar’s western-educated technocrats and an old guard ever more resentful at the rest of the world’s demands. Whatever anyone’s angle on Qatar as hosts, the organisation was as good as it gets.