"We’re studying the possibility of expanding the World Cup to 48 teams"

"We’re studying the possibility of expanding the World Cup to 48 teams"

General Secretary for Qatar 2022 Hassan Al-Thawadi sat down with AS to chat about how preparations for the tournament are going and what to expect at the event.

General Secretary for Qatar 2022 Hassan Al-Thawadi speaks fluent Spanish and seems happy with how preparations for the tournament are going. In just under four years’ time Qatar’s dream of hosting the World Cup finals will become a reality

According to recent rumours, there is talk of expanding the World Cup to 48 teams – starting from Qatar 2022...

We’ll see. We are putting together a report which FIFA have requested to look into whether expanding the tournament is viable. It’s more FIFA’s idea than ours but in the report, we will give our opinion. Once it’s finished we will hand our findings over and then it will be FIFA who decides. A definitive decision will be taken in Paris in March.

Hassan Al-Thawadi

World Cup expansion being studied

Are you in favour of having more teams take part?

That’s what we are currently assessing in the studies we are involved in.

Qatar is a small country, expanding the World Cup would mean more stadia would need to be built and there would be a need for greater infrastructure. Would it also mean you would extend a hand out to your neighbouring countries who, at the moment, have implemented a land and air blockade?

The 85,000 seater Lusail Stadium

I can’t say anything without having read the report. But I can openly state that the blockade is illegal, as I’m sure most of the world knows.

Has the blockade affected the country economically or caused any setbacks with your projects?

At the beginning, yes - particularly for companies based in neighbouring countries which were doing business with us. Later on we found other clients and the strategy changed. We had better quality materials at more competitive prices. So in a way, we have managed to turn it to our advantage. We have always said that the World Cup is a great opportunity for the whole region and it’s very sad that, because of this blockade, they cannot accompany us in this.

Issues concerning spectators at Qatar 2022

There are four years to go until the World Cup and another pending issue is that concerning alcohol. Will visitors be able to drink?

Yes, they will be able to consume alcohol but not in public places. That is in line with Qatari law. That is also what happens in many other countries. It’s an issue which will fully explain nearer to the tournament. People will be able to drink in hotels and in certain, determined places which we will specifically create. The issue is a little different regarding drinking inside the stadium because that is something which has to be assessed by FIFA. But whoever wants to drink in Qatar during the World Cup will be able to do so.

The design has been revealed for the Lusail stadium, the jewel in the Crown because that is the venue where the inaugural game and the final will be played. Have you an approximate idea of how much money has been spent?

The budget for the stadia was 8,000 million euros. That’s not including the metro system and other infrastructure because it’s a project which forms part of the development of the country - it’s not only expenses for a World Cup. That legacy will remain forever for Qataris.

Have people started feeling the passion for the World Cup in Qatar?

In Qatar, football is always a fiesta – we are crazy about football. There are a lot of things that are worth knowing about Qatar – things that a lot of people don’t know. The opposite is true with our culture and European culture. The first World Cup in the Arab world will serve to unite cultures, I am absolutely convinced of that.

Host nation

What has Qatar to offer?

Desert, sea and sun - and hospitality. Our people have a great sense of humour and are very welcoming. These are things that maybe people in Europe aren’t aware of. And on top of that, the climate in autumn, when the World Cup will take place, will be ideal.

Do you think the World Cup could change Qatar’s image? In a similar way to how Russia is viewed after they staged the tournament...

We’re not thinking about the World Cup just as something which might change our image. Football has great power, there’s no doubt at all about that. It’s a catalyst for the economy and the social situation. Qatar, for example, always had the intention of changing the situation of the workers. The World Cup will accelerate that process and we are changing everything relating to the regulations. Also, in 2010, we created a programme: Generation Amazing, which deals with improving the social situation, through football, in disadvantaged countries. It has already helped 250,000 people and we hope to reach a million. The programme is up and running in Nepal, Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan...

There has also been some concerns over the type of clothing that some of the fans might wear during the World Cup. How do you propose to manage that issue?

It’s not allowed to walk down the street in the nude, if that is what you are referring to (laughs). We are conservative people but in here in Qatar, we have people of 97 different nationalities living and working. They consider it their home and in general, they haven’t experienced any problems. We will announce the rules which need to be followed for everyone who comes into the country for the World Cup but there is absolutely no reason at all not to come.