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Pomp as first-ever Nov/Dec World Cup begins in the desert 

By Eno-Abasi Sunday, Deputy Editor
20 November 2022   |   3:31 am
Football's hidden charm will, yet again manifest as a staggering five of the eight billion humans on earth will, from today, be glued to their television sets as the world’s biggest football extravaganza, the FIFA World Cup, begins in Qatar

Nigerians Mourn Eagles Absence From Football Feast 

Football’s hidden charm will, yet again manifest as a staggering five of the eight billion humans on earth will, from today, be glued to their television sets as the world’s biggest football extravaganza, the FIFA World Cup, begins in Qatar, today.

Up to December 18, that curtain would fall, not even the garment of controversy, which the tournament dubbed Qatar 2022 World Cup is robed in, will detract from the opium-like effect, that football has on its followers drawn from different nationalities, creeds, and religions, and all corners of the earth.

Al Janoub Stadium<br />

Happening at a time that gnashing of teeth occasioned by widespread conflicts, savage internecine wars, worsening insecurity, as well as flooding and other challenges made possible by climate change, both victims and perpetrators of these crises would, for once, be united in savouring the finest of football artistry.

Indeed, the FIFA-organised showpiece will avail football connoisseurs, the chance not only to behold a star-studded line-up of players (831 in all) but also to appreciate the efficiency and clinical finishing of lethal goal-scoring “machines” that will be on parade.

The international football tournament, which runs from November 20 to December 18, will be played in eight stadiums, all of which are located in and around the Qatari capital city of Doha. Today’s opening ceremony and the first match of the tourney between Qatar and Ecuador will take place in Al Khor’s Al Bayt Stadium (45 minutes north of Doha), and it seats 60, 000 people.

Considered by many as one of the world’s most watched events, the FIFA World Cup, which is now in its 22nd edition is the first World Cup, that the Arab world is hosting, as well as the second World Cup held entirely in Asia. The first was the 2002 tourney that South Korea and Japan hosted.

Furthermore, the tournament will also be the last to feature 32 teams, as the field will increase to 48 teams beginning from the next edition (in 2026) to be hosted in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

The intense summer heat and humidity in Qatar, the smallest host by size since the 1954 tournament in Switzerland, necessitated shifting the Mundial to the winter. It will also be played in 29 days, a couple of days short of the timeframe of recent tournaments.

Ahead of the showpiece, there were dire concerns over how players and fans would react to, or cope with the extreme summer temperatures that they would have contended with before the tourney was eventually rescheduled to November, a development that has also disrupted the world’s football calendar.

Qatar’s Tumultuous Trip To Hosting 2022 Tourney
HOW a tiny desert nation, with no known football pedigree, ended up as the victor in a contest that had football and other heavyweights like the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Australia remains a mystery to many.

Supporters watch fireworks on a giant screen during the FIFA Fan Festival opening day at Al Bidda park in Doha on November 19, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

The mystery was further fuelled when immediately after Qatar’s emergence, allegations of vote-swapping, corruption, and connections to trade deals at the highest levels of government began to filter out.

Even though Qatar was cleared of corruption, the 22 FIFA executive committee members who took part in the voting 12 years ago, and two other officials were either suspended or accused, banned, or indicted over allegations of corruption and wrongdoing questions the clean bill of health handed the Arab Gulf nation.

Last week, 86-year-old former president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, and former Germany male football team captain, Phillip Lahm, further muddied the water when he admitted the decision to award Qatar with the 2022 World Cup was a “mistake.”

Blatter who told a Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger that he wanted to award the United States the 2022 World Cup, added: “The choice of Qatar was a mistake.

“At the time, we agreed in the executive committee that Russia should get the 2018 World Cup, and the USA should get it in 2022. It would have been a gesture of peace if the two long-standing political opponents had hosted the World Cup one after the other.

“It’s too small a country. Football and the World Cup are too big for that.”

When questioned on whether he felt responsible for the decision, he added: “For me it is clear. Qatar is a mistake. The choice was bad. What I’m wondering is why is the new FIFA president living in Qatar. He can’t be the head of the local World Cup organisation. That’s not his job. There are two organising committees for this — a local one and one from FIFA,” said Blatter who was cleared of fraud over a £1.6m payment to former UEFA president Michel Platini while he was FIFA president.

Seven days ago, Lahm, head of Germany’s organising committee for the 2024 European Championship, writing in a column for Zeit Online stressed that the World Cup “does not belong” in Qatar, stressing that it was “a mistake” to award the tournament to Qatar considering its human rights situation among others.

Lahm continued: “FIFA has damaged soccer and its credibility as a western organisation … Soccer isn’t a popular sport in Qatar and there’s practically no opportunity for girls to play.”

Novelties, Disruptions Thrown Up By First-ever November/December World Cup
SOME of the side attractions that travelling football fans usually look forward to during World Cups are sun-drenched afternoons and binging on alcoholic beverages. These two and many more would be absent from the Qatar World Cup. Last Friday, the sport’s governing body announced that Alcohol will not be sold at the World Cup’s eight stadiums.

Alcohol was set to be served “in select areas within stadiums,” despite its sale being strictly controlled in the Muslim country. But those in corporate areas of stadiums at the tournament will still be able to purchase alcohol.

With only 48 hours left on the clock for the kick-off, FIFA in a statement on Friday said: Alcohol will not be sold at the World Cup’s eight stadiums in Qatar after FIFA changed its policy two days before the start of the tournament.

“ Alcohol was set to be served in select areas within stadiums, despite its sale being strictly controlled in the Muslim country. Those in corporate areas of stadiums at the tournament will still be able to purchase alcohol.

The World Cup starts on Sunday when Qatar plays Ecuador.

“Following discussions between host country authorities and FIFA, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA fan festival, other fan destinations, and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters.

“There is no impact on the sale of Bud Zero, which will remain available at all of Qatar’s World Cup stadiums.

“Host country authorities and FIFA will continue to ensure that the stadiums and surrounding areas provide an enjoyable, respectful, and pleasant experience for all fans.

“The tournament organisers appreciate AB InBev’s understanding and continuous support to our joint commitment to cater for everyone during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” the statement added.

Apart from removing alcohol sales points from all eight stadiums, football fans would now be wrapped up in coats, scarves, and blankets to keep cold at bay in the November/December tourney.

Upon being granted the tournament’s hosting right, one of the major concerns that cropped up (aside from a slew of massive logistical problems) was the Middle East’s scorching heat, as the average temperature in the gulf nation over a year is 29 degrees Celsius. During their summer months, things could go overboard with the temperature hitting 40 degrees Celsius, a wave of heat considered too much for players to compete in, and deeply concerning for their health.

Consequent to this, FIFA announced in 2015 that the World Cup would be played in November and December, as against the traditional June and July that the tournament usually holds. This decision was further backed by two feasibility studies at FIFA’s behest in Qatar, in 2014 and 2015, which kicked against the idea of the tournament being played between the traditional June-July slots.

While the decision to switch dates effectively doused concerns about the climate, it gave major leagues around the world a major scheduling problem as the event is holding during one of the more hectic times of the year. Of course, most participating nations did not take this lying low because of the effect it would have on their domestic leagues.

Still among other precedents that the 2022 FIFA tourney in Qatar is setting is the fact that it is the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East. This is in keeping with FIFA’s pledge to stage at least one major international tournament in the region before 2030.

Additionally, with a November start and a December finish, the Qatar 2022 World Cup is also the first-ever World Cup to be held during the Northern Hemisphere winter months.

Tournament’s Best Performers So Far
WHILE the World Cup is the zenith of international football, playing in it represents the icing on the cake for individual players, and winning the ultimate diadem, is simply the highlight of most players’ international football careers.

Since the first ever World Cup took place in 1930, and subsequent ones happening every four years (except during the Second World War, which delayed the follow-up to the 1938 World Cup until 1950), one of the most consistent performers on that stage has been Brazil, which has won a record five titles.

It is on record that the trophy has been won by eight national teams with Brazil winning it five times, in addition to being the only team to have played in every tournament. Conversely, the Dutch are the only country to appear in at least three World Cup Finals without winning a single one.

To date, also, the final of the World Cup has only been contested by teams from confederations in Europe and South America. While European nations have lifted the trophy 12 times, South American nations have done so nine times. Only two teams from outside these two continents have ever reached the semi-finals of the competition. They are the United States in 1930, and South Korea (Asia) in 2002. The best result by an African team is a quarter-final finish by Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002, and Ghana in 2010.

Nigeria Missing As Football Biggest Fiesta Pulsates
LAST Tuesday, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as part of activities to mark World Population Day informed that the country’s population this year reached 216 million, the highest population in Africa, which also accounts for 2.7 per cent of the global population.

Also, according to Worldometre, a reference website that provides counters and real-time statistics for diverse topics, the country’s population currently stands at 217, 079, 601 as of August 25, 2022. Youths account for 70 per cent of the 217 million (that is 151 million), and 42 per cent of the 70 per cent are under the age of 15.7.

Since joining the World Cup family in Atlanta, United States of America in 1996, the country’s national senior men’s football team, the Super Eagles has qualified for six of the last eight FIFA World Cups. Out of these appearances, it has reached the round of 16 on three occasions.

But the major worry now is how a country that is so rich in human resources, predominantly youths, is missing the Mundial for the second time (2006, 2022) in 16 years.

Adeleke Akinsanmi, an avid football follower thinks Nigeria’s failure to always deploy her best legs for sporting assignments is the reason that she would always be the butt of jokes among sporting nations.

“To think that a country made up of over 216 million people, out of which 170 million are young persons is missing at the World Cup simply shows that we are not utilising our strength and abundant human endowment.

We are so endowed by nature to the point that we have enough human resources to remain a perennial world-beater. But instead, what do we have here? A combination of factors that have effectively kept us down on all fronts.

Pardon me if I sound too confident, qualification for the World Cup should never pose a single problem to us if we manage our sporting fortunes sustainably. It is time to take our sports officials to task.

We must also not never condone poor management of our players by national teams’ managers because we are the ones that suffer the heartbreak, while they earn fat pay. Nepotism and poor coaching must be rid of at all costs,” Akinsanmi said.

For Ogbuefi Louis Nwanna: “Bad governance and mediocre management of human and material resources, which the country has endured under the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government is what has ensured that the country failed to qualify for the World Cup. A country that is as rich in diverse ways as Nigeria should never find itself in the position that we have found ourselves twice in 16 years.”

He continued: “The first time that we failed to qualify for the World Cup (after we joined the World Cup family in 1994), then NFA president, Ibrahim Galadima had the effrontery to tell Nigerians that qualification for the Mundial was not our birthright. It is declarations, attitudes, and behaviours like this that have kept us where we are.

“People should realise that when they have the opportunity to serve the country, they should do so with all the energy that they have in them. They should equally be very sober when they slip instead of the brashness that you see in officials who posture as if they are doing the country a favour by giving service. “It is so sad that we are not in Qatar. It is sadder that it would happen again if we do not change our ways and reprimand public officials that are found wanting,” Nwanna said.
Remarkable Infrastructure Upgrade, Development Of Architectural Masterpieces

QATAR may be the smallest host by land size since the 1954 tournament in Switzerland, but it has successfully used the 2022 FIFA World Cup and others as avenues to upgrade the country’s infrastructure, even as the government is also using the football tournament to bolster private sector activities.

Instructively, the transformation of Qatar’s sporting milieu got serious impetus in 2010 when the country announced a host of the Mundial. In the years that followed, an elaborate sporting agenda unfolded, and it featured the hosting of a wide range of international tournaments and competitions.

This included equestrian sports, cycling, and motorsports, major golf, tennis, squash, and handball events. Standing out among them was the 2015 Men’s World Handball Championships.

The government also pushed/promoted sports, and encouraged the Qatari population to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle launching its first annual national sports holiday in February 2012, in addition to playing a pivotal role in the development and expansion of sports facilities and infrastructure. As all these happened, it got the buy-in of domestic businesses, who successfully leveraged the country’s new-found position as a centre of sporting events.

Also, before the World Cup, the country, as part of efforts to attain economic diversification, focused on the promotion of the sports industry. This major development goal, which was aimed at achieving sporting excellence, is an expressively stated objective of the Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030).

Before now, Qatar hosted some international sporting events. But by far, the breakthrough was in 2000 when the Olympic Council of Asia awarded Doha the hosting right for the 2006 Asian Games. The successful hosting of that event, which is the second-largest multi-event sporting competition in the world after the Olympics, stood the country in good stead to attract major sporting meets. While this happened, a lot of funds were injected into training programmes and sports infrastructure development.

The World Cup with its massive logistical, and operational challenges will also serve as a massive opportunity for the country to test its rising profile as a tourist destination, and shore up pre and post-World Cup visitor numbers.

As part of FIFA guidelines, Qatar had to ensure that at least 60,000 hotel rooms were in place this year. Achieving that meant that the country’s hotel capacity needed to increase by 12.8 per cent per annum, a report published in 2018 by Dubai-based financial advisory services firm, Alpen Capital stated.

Be that as it may, of the eight venues to be used for the tourney, seven were been built from scratch, and the government said that it spent $6.5 billion constructing them. Apart from the Al Khor Al Bayt Stadium, which hosts the FIFA World Cup 2022 opening match, the other stadiums lined up to host the Mundial are Lusail Stadium, Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Al Janoub Stadium, Al Thumama Stadium, Education City Stadium, Khalifa International Stadium, as well as the Stadium 974, which is the first temporary stadium ever used at a World Cup.

As part of efforts to address the excessive heat scalding temperatures, and humidity, including in the winter months, each of the eight World Cup stadia is fitted with a “focused cooling” air-conditioning system.

Up till 72 hours before the kick-off of the FIFA World Cup, hotel accommodation was still an issue that the country was struggling with, as it was believed to be in a deficit of enough lodging to house an expected 1.2 million football fans.

While STR a benchmarking service maintained that Qatar has only about 31, 000 hotel rooms, Qatar Tourism last week said that it has more hotels opening this month in time for the global showpiece. This, the outfit said will boost its room count.

But many fans who are looking beyond traditional hotels, have gone ahead to book more than 90, 000 hotel rooms, tents, apartments, and temporary “portacabins.”

Protecting Players Against Cyberbullying, Online Abuse
IN January this year, Super Eagles goalkeeper, Maduka Okoye, and midfielder, Alex Iwobi, were subjected to cyberbullying by fans, including death threats following the country’s exit from the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon after a 1-0 defeat to Tunisia.

After Youssef Msakni scored the only goal of the encounter that took Tunisia to the last eight and sent Nigeria out of the tourney, many fans were brokenhearted, and they felt Okoye should have saved Msakni’s effort. Iwobi was sent off the pitch in the 59th minute for a dangerous tackle after six minutes on the pitch.

One aggrieved fan wrote on Twitter: “Maduka Okoye, God will punish you and your family, your incompetence cost us AFCON,” while another tweeted: “Maduka, you will not live long. You sold this AFCON match to the Tunisians.”

In faraway Brazil, former Chelsea and Arsenal striker, Willian Borges da Silva, who started his career at Corinthians was subjected to cyber attacks, when he returned to his boyhood club last season.

According to him, his family members were threatened and abused online, and the ugly development forced him to return to England, where he is now playing for Fulham FC.

Said he: “I was suffering a lot, and my family was suffering a lot because people started attacking us on social media, attacking my family, my daughters…”

To put an end to the ugly development, FIFA, in concert with the Fédération Internationale des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnels (FIFPRO) is launching the social media protection service at the World Cup.

The launch of the social media protection service follows the publication of two independent reports produced by FIFA and FIFPRO, in June 2022, that highlighted the increasing degree of abuse directed at footballers across social media platforms during international tournaments.

According to FIFA, it “is monitoring the social media accounts of all participants at the FIFA World Cup, by scanning for public-facing abusive, discriminatory and threatening comments, and then reporting them to social networks and law authorities for real-world action against those who break rules.

“Teams, players, and other individual participants will also be able to opt-in to a moderation service that will instantly hide abusive and offensive comments on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, preventing them from being seen by the recipient, and their followers.”

In addition to launching the FIFA social media protection service, FIFA and FIFPRO are engaging with social media platforms to have their support in being part of the solution.

Reacting to the initiative, Willian said: “I’m standing now with FIFA to see if you can stop these kinds of things.”

Migrant Workers’ Deaths Dent On Host Nation’s Reputation
QATAR may have done well for itself with the avalanche of sports infrastructure erected in the last 12 years since getting FIFA’s nod. It may have also succeeded in putting itself in good stead to host many more international sports meets, in addition to raising indigenous athletes who can do greater exploits in the field of sports, but the morbid attainment that the country has attained with the soaring number of migrant workers killed in the process of constructing these mega sporting facilities, and its questionable human rights record will remain a sore thumb for a long time to come.

Put differently, discriminatory laws, which curtail women’s freedoms through male guardianship rules, and the human toll of building such massive infrastructure in record time have continued to damage the country’s reputation.

While the authorities insist that only three “work-related” deaths have occurred on actual stadium construction sites since work began in 2014, and 37 more off-site fatalities that are not “work-related,” official figures in the country have shown that a staggering 15, 000 non-Qataris died in the country between 2010 and 2019.

As human rights campaigners continue to deplore thousands of unexplained deaths because of a lack of investigation, Qatari authorities have continued to maintain that the death toll is reflective of the size of the country’s migrant workforce. But how many of those deaths were linked to World Cup-related work is both disputed, and unclear.

Be that as it may, it is on record that 6, 500 migrant workers from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal died between 2010 and 2020. However, 69 per cent of the deaths among Indian, Nepali, and Bangladeshi workers were attributed to natural causes.

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