By Javier Picazo Feliu
Doha, Nov 8 (EFE).- Conservative, multicultural, welcoming and safe. This is Qatar, a small country with a population of just under 3 million, 80% of whom are foreigners, and which is gearing up to host the World Cup to showcase to the world its remarkable social, cultural and economic evolution.
The tournament is, without a doubt, one of the most controversial in history, due to allegations of corruption within FIFA over the choice of venue, the working conditions of laborers during the construction of stadiums and key infrastructure, a lack of equality between men and women and the state-backed censorship of the LGTBI community.
“I think there have been a lot of questions and debates on this topic. And I want to reassure people. Yes, Qatar is a conservative country. It is a modest country. The restrictions on people and the way they live are not as great as they are led to believe,” CEO of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, Nasser Al-Khater, tells Efe.
It is a country with cultural and religious norms. Visitors are advised to cover their shoulders and to sport pants that go below the knees. Consumption of alcohol is restricted, public displays of affection are frowned upon, and it is best not to stare at people or take photographs without prior permission. Spitting in the street or throwing garbage on the ground is punishable and there is zero tolerance for drugs.
“The public display of affection is not something we are used to here. Men and women can shake hands, they can hug each other occasionally. But, you know, going further, they will understand that people can look at them or say something. People who understand the culture will come here and respect the culture. We are very welcoming and hospitable,” adds Al-Khater.
MELTING POT OF CULTURES
Qatar is the second country in the world with the highest volume of migrants, covering some 196 nationalities. The capital, Doha, is an ultra modern business hub that is also a melting pot home to over 2 million people.
“We have a lot of Europeans, North Americans, South Americans, people from Asia. They live here and feel comfortable. They see Qatar as one of the safest countries in the world, the safest in the Arab world. And in general they are here because everything is positive in terms of freedoms (…) People will come and see that all this existing debate was in vain” Al-Khater points out.
The first thing that strikes visitors when they set foot in Qatar is the feeling of being in a new country. The streets, transport services and buildings are pristine. Sustainable urban planning is at its prime in Doha with cutting edge design examples such as the Msheireb smart city.
Qatar was once home to a medley of modest fishing towns, but the Middle Eastern nation has boomed to become an economic powerhouse fueled by oil and natural gas exports. Becoming the venue for the World Cup has boosted the country’s recent drive to diversify its economy by boosting tourism and education .
“It is more than football for us. It is actually part of our ‘National Development Plan 2030’ (…) The World Cup is a catalyst to bring forward this plan and make sure that everything is in place to stage one of the biggest shows in the world”, Fatma Al-Nuaimi, Director of Communications for Qatar 2022, tells Efe.
World Cup organizers are expecting the tournament to draw in around 2 million visitors who will enjoy a state of the art infrastructure, an upheaval that cost around $200 billion and a legacy Qataris will also enjoy.
Human rights groups have denounced the abuse of migrant workers, the non-payment of wages and extreme working conditions that have allegedly even resulted in the deaths of employees. Qatar has defended itself saying it has introduced labor reforms “in record time.”
Measures include the approval of a minimum wage and the “abolition” of the sponsorship system that binds employees to the will of their employers.
“People can find and read many uninformed articles about Qatar, but having 1.2 million fans coming and experiencing it for themselves, this is one of the truest legacies we will have at this event. People are going to be coming here and having their perceptions changed and then they can actually make their own judgments and their perception of the situation that is here,” says Al-Nuaimi.
“We have representation from all these countries. So it’s not something new for us. It is something that is second nature, Qatar is a very hospitable nation. For us welcoming the world, you can see the excitement of the local people here waiting to welcome everyone. Lots of amazing experiences have been planned for fans and we cannot wait to host them,” she says.