As one of the best World Cups ever ends in Russia, football’s biggest tournament must now prepare for its most controversial, in Qatar in 2022.
Since the tournament was handed to the supremely wealthy Gulf state, whose team has never appeared in a World Cup, FIFA’s decision has been roundly questioned and resulted in severe consequences for football and its governing body.
The four-year run-up to the Middle East’s first ever World Cup is unlikely to prove any different.
With a host rocked by a diplomatic crisis, accused of supporting terrorism, facing allegations of corruption and human rights abuse, a tournament shifted to November and December for the first time and uncertainty over how many teams will take part in 2022, it is fair to say there has never been a World Cup like Qatar’s.
The emirate sold its bid in part by claiming Qatar’s World Cup would be one for the Middle East but that claim has been severely undermined by political events.
Since June 2017, a group of neighbouring countries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have frozen relations with Qatar, accusing it of backing extremism and being too close to Iran.
The crisis has lasted 13 months and shows little sign of abating, instead deepening with Qatar taking the UAE to the International Court of Justice in June.
It has unsettled the most stable part of the Middle East and placed 2022 in its crosshairs.
Officials in Saudi Arabia and the UAE have openly called for Qatar to be stripped of the World Cup and promised fresh revelations later this year.
As part of the crisis, Saudis and UAE citizens are prevented by their own countries from travelling to Qatar; prior to the dispute Doha tournament organisers predicted up to 1.5 million fans arriving for the tournament, many from football-mad Saudi. -AFP