A World Cup miracle

Qatari fans celebrate at Souk Waqif in Doha

The whole of Qatar erupted into a bundle of flag-waving Middle Easterners when the nation performed a football miracle to bring the World Cup to the region for the first time in its history.

Qatar, the smallest nation bidding for the right to host the 2022 tournaments, is a sports-mad peninsula that juts into the balmy waters of the Persian Gulf.

But to many in the Western hemisphere, it is still an unknown land in a region that has, until very recently, not been associated with world-class football but rather with terrible conflicts.

All that will and must now change – and it is to Fifa’s credit that the Middle East has finally been given a chance to break those dusty stereotypes.

As a journalist and writer born and raised in Qatar’s capital of Doha, a former fishing and pearl diving town that has become a bustling metropolis uniting people from around the world, I encountered a real sense of euphoria amongst Qataris following the outcome of Thursday’s vote in Zurich.

But now the hard work for Qatar really starts.

The first issue the country is likely to face concerns security. In a region riddled by conflicts and recent wars, will it be safe to travel to the Middle East for football’s biggest competition?

Qatar is, from experience, one of the safest places in the world.

Crime rates are very low and visitors to the nation’s streets can comfortably walk around Doha at night without feeling threatened.

Growing up in Qatar means I have witnessed the country’s incredible sporting revolution first hand.

The progression has been breathtaking. But when I first reported on Qatar’s intentions to bid for the World Cup early last year, the hopes of a football-crazy nation were still more dreamy than expectant.

From the likes of Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Goran Ivanisevic, who competed in the ExxonMobil Open in 1993, to the impeccably organised Fifa Youth World Cup in 1995 and progressively onwards, Qatar has continually invested in hosting sports events and sports stars of world stature.

In many ways, Qatar’s victory is a story of persistence, fuelled by great investment in sports infrastructure that culminated momentarily in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.

But critics who suggest that the 2022 World Cup is solely about money are surely wrong.

Qatar has a special touch in making the visiting sportsmen – and women – feel the special Arabian charm that the country exudes effortlessly in exhibiting its very best side.

Qatari people are warm, friendly, hospitable descendents of the Bedouins who first inhabited the desert-covered peninsula and let any visitors feel at home in their tents.

Nowadays, the city is becoming a modern metropolis of art, culture and education – and one of the most important impacts of the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar will be to break any negative stereotyping that exists.

Qatar has a football team that reflects its cosmopolitan composition.

My good friend Sebastian Soria is the main striker of the team that is currently preparing to launch an attempt to win the 2011 Asian Cup on home soil in January.

The Qatar Sports Club striker of Uruguayan origins was candid when I asked him this summer about Qatar’s chances of hosting a World Cup. “I think we can host a fantastic tournament,” he said. “And why not dream?” Now the dream has become a sporting reality.

Much work remains to be done but it will be confronted with incredible passion and pride.

As a country with a current population of almost two million, many of whom are foreigners, Qatar 2022 will be the most compact World Cup of all time.

It will be a charming competition, displaying the very best of the Middle Eastern cultures and Arabian traditions.

It will certainly be a tournament with a great amount of football fever. Qatar is hot in the summer months, as any long-time resident will confirm, but cooled stadiums with magnificent designs are set to rise from the beautiful golden desert sands in the coming years.

In many ways, the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar is a sporting miracle.

The people of Qatar – and by extension those of the Middle East – have finally been given a chance to show their true potential.

It promises to be a brave new world for the beautiful game.

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