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[Photo: sports.ru]

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USA did it in 1994, why not Qatar?

[Photo: sports.ru]

[Photo: sports.ru]

The latest debate in World football is getting ugly. A political agenda is being created. A heated discussion on culture. Questions are being raised over just the nature, ethics and customs of the host nation. As Marina Hyde puts in her piece for the Guardian “football may finally be about to go to war“. And this unfortunate chain of events has taken away the beauty of this beautiful game, and put it into a cringe-worthy and down right embarrassing situation. The respect that this ‘World’ sport demands, its very synonym of a ‘Global’ game may seize to exist.

USA 1994. It was one of the most intriguing and compelling World Cups of all time. Fans saw the attacking side of the game like never before. The new back-pass rule was implemented which prevented unwanted defensive and backwards approach to the game. Defenders and midfielders were forced to look ahead and adapt a more attacking game. This made the game more exciting for the general viewing, more easy on the eyes. And this was needed, the Sport had to add more entertainment value. It was being hosted in a country that was largely alien to the football world. One which demanded entertainment more than compact defenses. Crazy all-out brawls more than inside forwards. Cheerleaders more than Catenaccio (seen at Italia 90).

Fans were skeptical and apprehensive to this Gridiron playing, Slam Dunking, Home Run Hitting country. ‘Soccer’ (as they preferred to call it) wasn’t part of their tradition and culture. So why and how should a country not part of the traditional football culture get to host the single most famous and biggest tournament in the World (and indeed in the sport)? What do they bring to the sport? Fans were largely against the United States hosting this tournament. Empty stadiums, pin drop silence and ‘plastic’ support was expected. But look how that turned out.

As history bears witness the 1994 World Cup had the highest average attendance, nearly 69,000. That World Cup in the States also had the highest overall attendance with 3,570,000. The lowest attendance in a single match at that tournament was over 50,000 (in a game between Netherlands and Saudi Arabia). The next best in that regard was a lowly 38,000 at Germany 2006. The 94 World Cup was also a big step up from the previous one in Italy. The average attendance in the South European Peninsula country was 48,000. USA 94′ was 20,000 more. The highest attendance too was 20,000 more than the 74,ooo in Italy. The World Cup in the US also opened new doors for the Sport, like never before. It was the first time ALL matches were televised, the first time that there were no commercial interruptions for the 45 minute stretch. It was also the first time that viewers watching on the tele could see the score and time at the corner of their screens. Football then grew into how we know it now. Made it a global sport, allowed the World to watch. It was progress like never before.

Now it can be argued that the US already had a football/soccer culture developing much before 94′. With Pele, Beckenbauer and the New York Cosmos. But for once cast your eyes away from the West and into the Middle East- Raul, Batistuta, De Boer, Desailly, Hierro and a whole host of others have played in the Qatar Stars League. Qatar right now have much more of a football culture than the US had before 1994. The Football culture, and the passion embroiled in it is as good as it is anywhere else in the World. For countries in the Middle East, football is the ONLY sport. Yes they make attempts at sports like Handball and try their hand at athletics too, but football is the only thing they really care about, and are good at. Take Europe, and UK for example, there is a Football crazy atmosphere, but there is ofcourse rugby, cricket, tennis etc.

I was once asked the question, “What do Qatar bring to the football culture?”. What do they bring? Everything. More than what the US could bring more than 20 years back. With the development in Qatar, with the technology, the infrastructure and indeed, the financial backing. Anything is possible in the country. You could be left amazed at the possibilities.

Qatar 2022 Stadium

An artists’s impression of a potential stadium at the Qatar World Cup. [Photo source unclear, surfaced on various websites and blogs]

Now there have been complaints of the climate in the country and the health of the players. But when did footballers get so fragile? Where has the passion gone? Grown men complaining about playing football (something they’re paid to do) because its too hot? Concerns are being raised over the health of the fans as well. Correct me if i’m wrong, don’t footballers train in the summer and winter break in countries with higher temperatures- to adapt? Don’t ‘Westerners’ travel across the World to sunny beaches to relax in the summer, get their tan on and what not? Why has hot temperatures suddenly become a concern? Here’s a thought, Africans and Asians are accustomed to these climates. They play football, with their hearts out, in these climates. No complaints, no questions asked. A game of passion, it has been called. To add to the pampered needs of the footballers, the Qatar organises claim they can use solar technology by utilising the sun’s rays and converting the energy generated to produce electricity that can be used to cool stadiums. This is already being done in Jassim bin Hammad/Al-Sadd stadium for some 5 years now.

“We are ready to host the World Cup in summer or winter. Our planning isn’t affected either way, as we are committed to the cooling technologies for legacy reasons

We are offering solutions to keep players and fans cool and comfortable – and developing those solutions to ensure that they are environmentally sustainable.

We will forge ahead with implementing and developing this technology.”

That was the statement from the Qatar World Cup committee. There are 9 years to go and we are well ahead of this problem with the advent of technology.

The application of this technology is not limited to stadiums or sports venues. It can be applied in public spaces, so outdoor life can be enjoyed all year round, regardless of climate.

Another claim here from the hosts that fans can be assured of their safety, from the Sun. Their experience in the country won’t be tarnished by that evil giant ball of fire.

Qatar have even stated that they are open to hosting the World Cup in the winter. A decision which FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, rests with the country themselves. The biggest voices against this are once again- the Europeans. The reason being that when the ‘grand’ domestic leagues of Europe are done, only then can the World Cup be played. So the rest of the World (the 5 other continents) have to play to the whims and fancies of the Europeans. A World Cup in the midst of a domestic European League is unthinkable, how could they!

Heres some bit of news for you though, many leagues across the World, especially in Asia, South America and Africa actually take a break from their domestic leagues to allow a Summer World Cup to take place, is it then really so bad if the Europeans do it- once?

Questions have also been raised over the customs in the Middle Eastern country and its Islamic beliefs. To further provide hospitality for a world audience, Qatar has stated that the sale and consumption of alcohol will be made more liberal. Less tight restrictions will be imposed. Official licenses will be needed and provided upon request. Concerns have also been made about Qatar’s stand on homosexuality. Here again, FIFA have stated that being a World Sport, no such restrictions will be made and the general orthodox laws will be removed.

Back in 1994 it was the Europeans that raised concerns over the hosting of the World Cup in the United States. The large voices are coming from there once again. Football is a global sport, it was always meant to be. But the same nationalistic and xenophobic views that plague the World today, have encroached on the beautiful game as well. One has to wonder, is the apprehension against Qatar purely about football?

Yes Europe has the best leagues, and the best players, and the best clubs. It is the greatest football market. Asia and the Middle East is inferior comparatively. But this is no reason to prevent Qatar from hosting the tournament. Its time new doors are opened and new football cultures are learnt. Its the Sport that is played across all lands, its the common language spoken by billions world wide. Qatar is just another football crazy nation, like Germany, England, Brazil, Argentina and all the other 206 confederations. The United States amazed the World in 94′, give Qatar a chance and see the results it produces.

Here is some interesting reading on USA 94 from Soccer Politics / The Politics of Football

Featured image via sports.ru

Sami Faizullah

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