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Qatar Puts Middle East Football on Map: Official - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Sheikha Moza, wife of Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad, proudly presents a copy of the World Cup he received from FIFA President Blatter in Zurich. (R)

Sheikha Moza, wife of Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad, proudly presents a copy of the World Cup he received from FIFA President Blatter in Zurich. (R)

DOHA (AFP) – Qatar, the tiny energy-rich Gulf Arab country that was picked on Thursday to host the 2022 World Cup, has placed Middle East football “on the world map,” the head of its Olympic Committee said.

Thousands of people converged on the corniche and other public areas in Doha in an outburst of joy after the announcement in Zurich that Qatar would play host to football’s showpiece event, a first for an Arab or Muslim country.

“Qatar places the Middle East (football) on the world map,” Sheikh Saud bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told the country’s Al-Jazeera television.

Shortly before the announcement, Sheikh Saud had said “we won the challenge to compete with the big countries.”

In winning, the Qataris saw off bids by the United States, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

Qatar are ranked number 113 in the current FIFA world rankings. Unless they have a dramatic upturn in fortunes before Russia in 2018 they will become the first World Cup hosts never to have appeared in the finals.

As hosts, they will automatically qualify.

Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and his wife, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Masnad, were in Switzerland to head the country’s delegation.

Crowds watching the live broadcast on giant television screens at home seemed to be one with them, when the announcement was made.

They burst into chants of “Qatar, Qatar” following the announcement by FIFA head Sepp Blatter.

Streets around the corniche in Doha became gridlocked just minutes later, and younger fans blew plastic vuvuzela horns that deafened spectators during this year’s World Cup in South Africa.

“I cannot express my feelings,” said Mohammed al-Kaldi, unable to hold back his tears of joy. “I cannot believe that it was announced.”

Ashraf Jaber, a 34-year-old Egyptian who works in Doha, said that “by hosting the World Cup, Qatar will honour all Arabs.”

That was echoed by the head of Kuwait’s football federation in Aden, Yemen, where a regional football tournament is under way.

The choice of Qatar is a “success for all the Gulf region, and above all for Arabs,” said Sheikh Talal al-Fahd.

Mohammed Khalfan al-Rimithi, his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates, said Qatar, “which has already organised major sports events, is going to succeed with excellence in hosting the 2022 World Cup.”

“We are all for Qatar,” read one colourful streamer raised by young residents of different nationalities in Doha.

In Washington, US President Barack Obama did not echo their sentiment, saying FIFA made the “wrong decision.”

“I think it was the wrong decision,” he said at the White House, joining thousands of disappointed Americans who watched the announcement from Zurich, where a video message from him had been part of the US presentation.

In their bid to host the championship, the Qataris had sought to counter FIFA’s key concerns — about security, the heat and the legacy of more than a dozen new stadiums in the small nation.

“Qatar is a reliable partner, Qatar is constant and Qatar is responsible,” said Sheikh Hamad, who added that it would show “a new face of the Middle East and… dialogue between peoples.”

The bid committee outlined projects for cooled and modular stadiums that would be dismantled and transferred to developing countries afterwards, playing to world football’s stated quest for “legacy” with each major event.

Qatar, a major oil producer and enormously rich in gas reserves but with a population of just 1.7 million inhabitants, has emerged in recent years as a major host of international sports and cultural events.

It hosted the Asian Games in 2006 and will stage the Asian Cup, the region’s top football event, in January.

The World Cup bid confers a number of world records on Qatar: it becomes the smallest country by far in population terms to host the event, the first Arab and Muslim country to do so, and the wealthiest — with an average per capita income of 60,000 dollars.

Qatar’s minister of state for foreign affairs Ahmad bin Abdullah al-Mahmud said that what Qatar lacks in size it makes up in quality.

“It is not matter of size, or a matter of quantity, but a matter of quality,” he said on the sidelines of a meeting in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

“There are many small countries that have done huge things for the international community, and that is what we are looking (to do) in Qatar.”

People celebrate in front of a screen that reads "Congratulations Qatar" after FIFA announced that Qatar will be host of the 2022 World Cup. (R)

People celebrate in front of a screen that reads “Congratulations Qatar” after FIFA announced that Qatar will be host of the 2022 World Cup. (R)

A Qatari man cries in Doha after the tiny Gulf state was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup. (AFP)

A Qatari man cries in Doha after the tiny Gulf state was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup. (AFP)

A woman with her face painted in the colours of the Qatar flag celebrates in Doha after the tiny Gulf state was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup. (AP)

A woman with her face painted in the colours of the Qatar flag celebrates in Doha after the tiny Gulf state was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup. (AP)

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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