His Excellency Hassan Al Thawadi
DOHA: The Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) believes the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 has the potential to unite the globe once the COVID-19 pandemic has been defeated.
H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi outlined SC’s response to the virus and discussed tournament preparations during Leaders Week Direct – a global sports industry conference currently being held online due to the ongoing pandemic.
Speaking during an interview with James Worrall, Leaders CEO & Founder, Al Thawadi said the SC had moved quickly to protect its workforce once the pandemic reached Qatar.
“It’s an unprecedented situation and our immediate focus was our workers’ health and safety,” said Al Thawadi. “In coordination with the Ministry of Public Health, we isolated at-risk workers, provided awareness materials and educated people about best practice. We also took other actions, such as disinfecting work sites, to limit the spread as much as possible.”
Al Thawadi said Qatar is guaranteeing the salaries of anyone affected by the pandemic. “Our government is ensuring everyone gets paid – even if they are isolated or hospitalised due to the illness,” he said.
Despite COVID-19, Qatar is on track to deliver much of its infrastructure by the end of this year.
"We are continuing to work at a much slower pace than normal but we are blessed with already being ahead of the game in terms of infrastructure. We have completed more than 80% of venues – two-and-a-half years before kick-off.”
Al Thawadi said one of the core challenges for Qatar 2022 is to ensure the tournament is economically accessible to fans who wish to attend.
"It’s difficult for anyone to paint a clear picture of a post-COVID world. This is the first time in the modern world where all economic activity has come to a standstill and there are big implications on business, employment and livelihoods. We need to consider the ability of fans to afford to visit and participate in the World Cup. We’re in discussions with experts and also other tournament holders, such as Tokyo 2020, to plan and put scenarios together.
"We’ve said from day one this will be an affordable experience. We demonstrated that during the Club World Cup by working closely with clubs, fan groups and Qatar Airways. There is no blueprint for a post-COVID world – but we can look and anticipate, and try to understand what the recovery is going to look like. We need to host an event which is affordable for fans and functionable for industries and supply chains.”
Al Thawadi went on to say Qatar’s World Cup has the potential to unify the globe once COVID-19 has been defeated.
“It may sound idealistic, but the pandemic has made us realise we are all social creatures. The impact on our mental health, the uncertainty, social distancing, not being able to engage with each other – everyone misses human interaction. I’ve always dreamt big and said this is a World Cup to bring people together – and goodness knows, after COVID, we have to come back together. We need to get over this and celebrate collectively during Qatar 2022.”
Al Thawadi was also asked about the ongoing blockade which Qatar is subjected to by several neighbouring countries. He said the political situation had helped boost resilience in the country – but hoped it would be eased in order to allow people to attend the tournament.
"In many ways, the blockade has been a blessing in disguise for Qatar. It has forced us to be self-reliant and look inwards. It’s actually helped us become better prepared to deal with COVID. We’re now number 13 in the world when it comes to food security and, as soon as COVID came along, Qatari companies started producing 8 million face masks per week, along with 2,000 ventilators [for local requirements and global aid].”
Al Thawadi continued: “Support from the people of the region – notably blockading countries – is there. People are very excited about the tournament. We hosted the Gulf Cup last year, which included teams from blockading countries. Two thousand Bahrain fans were here to see their country win the Gulf Cup for the first time in their history.
“I hope the blockading countries remove the travel restrictions. There are no restrictions from Qatar. I hope they remove them for what is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the people of our region. By 2022, I’m optimistic we will have overcome this pandemic. I’m optimistic we will have become more resilient as a human race. It’s a chance for us all to celebrate together.”