Which means, with one year to go, the countdown for Qatar is on – which is set to be one of the quirkiest, expensive and most controversial World Cups ever.
Taking place during the regular season, due to the country’s extreme heat, the tournament will run from late November to mid-December, ending a week before Christmas Day in fact.
Average temperatures will still be around 24°C so nice and toasty for those competing.
But temperature won’t be the only issue for participating teams, with the country’s human rights record ringing alarm bells.
With 12 months, Mirror Sport takes a look at the World Cup that’s got everyone talking…
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The incredible cost
Qatar is the size of Yorkshire with 2.8 million residents. But due to a fortune based on liquid natural gas, it is the richest country in the world per capita. That means this World Cup will also be one of the most lavish.
Around £120bn has been spent on the country’s infrastructure to prepare for the tournament, including a new city, Lusail, to host the final, a new airport and train system as well as seven new stadiums. To add to the cost organisers are in talks with Abba, Lady Gaga and Aerosmith to perform at the tournament. It’s no coincidence that all are signed by Universal, a FIFA partner.
A host country like no other
As it’s the first to be held in the Middle East, this World Cup is also the first to be held in winter to avoid the searing heat in the summer months which can reach more than 42 degree C. However, even in winter, temperatures could still be more than 25 degree C.
To counter this, the World Cup stadiums have been fitted with giant air conditioning systems whereby cold air is pumped in pitch-side to keep players – and fans – cool. The air con will keep the ambient stadium temperature at 22degC, equivalent to summer’s day in England in June.
Qatar is one of the hottest countries on the planet. Temperatures have been getting so high in summer that the authorities have started introducing air conditioning OUTDOORS in the street and open-air markets
England fans will need to behave
England haven’t always had the best behaviour at football tournaments and for this one they will need to be more restrained. Alcohol is banned for the general population in Qatar.
For this event, English visitors who want alcoholic refreshment will have to go special ‘wet fan zones’ for a drink which will be located away from stadiums and town centres.
But even though it will all be imported, the cost of a beer is likely to stick at around £5. Booze will also be served on cruise ships used to accommodate fans in the harbour at the capital, Doha, and at stadiums but only for those taking out pricey hospitality packages.
Not your usual accommodation
A million fans from all over the world are expected over the course of the tournament – 130,000 will stay in hotels (2-5*), others at 60,000 apartments being made available. Amid fears of an accommodation shortage, Qatar is embarking on a construction frenzy at two dozen hotel sites.
Sadly not every room will enjoy sumptuous views of the ocean – the Madinatna apartment complex, which will house 27,000 fans, is stuck in the desert 15 miles form Doha surrounded by an 18-lane motorway. There’s also £150-a-night glamping in Bedouin-style tents in the desert on offer, or fans may opt to stay in Dubai and take the 70-minute flight into Qatar for games they want to see.
Thousands of supporters will also have cabins on luxury cruise ships moored in Doha harbour. Poolside cinemas, whirlpool baths, spa centres and rooms with ocean views are not exactly what fans are used to.
The 94,409 ton cruise liner MSC Poesia is one ship that will be moored off Doha for the tournament with shuttle buses on hand to ferry supporters to nearby train stations so they can get to games. The luxury ship also has a foyer waterfall to a Zen garden, sushi bar, gym, mini-golf, tennis court and poker room. Some might say that with all that entertainment laid on, who needs football?
These centre around two issues, the first being the claim that Qatar won the right to host the World Cup through a corrupt bid in 2010. The Doha authorities deny wrongdoing and the country was cleared by a FIFA report in 2017.
There’s also human rights.
Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that 6500 migrant workers from South Asia have died since Qatar won the right to host the World Cup nearly eleven years ago. It is unknown how many were directly involved in World Cup projects or the country’s wider construction programme. Qatar has reported 38 worker deaths on World Cup construction programmes.
David Beckham has been criticised over his decision to be the ‘face’ of the Qatar World Cup in a deal said to be worth £150 over ten years.
AFP via Getty Images)
Amnesty International said he should use his position to ‘keep the world’s focus on the human rights issues surrounding the matches’ at next year’s tournament. In a report, the charity criticised the host country for failing to investigate the deaths of construction workers after long shifts in the extreme desert heat.
In response, Qatar has brought in reforms to improve worker’s conditions, limiting the hours they have to toil away in the summer heat and introduced a minimum wage. The Doha authorities say there are going after rogue contractors who they blame for human rights violations.
A government spokesman said: “Qatar has never shied away from acknowledging that its labour system is still a work in progress”.
Following players from Norway and Denmark staging their own protests the England manager said his team will “educate themselves” over Qatar human rights issues ahead of the tournament.
Cover up in the stands
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar but the authorities have said gay fans will be welcome and rainbow flags allowed in grounds. Public displays of affection are banned so no snogging your partner when a goal goes in – whether you’re gay or straight. Although women are required be dressed ‘modestly’, they won’t have to cover their hair
For the tournament, the Qataris have built no less than seven new stadiums.
The designs draw on the regional culture so one looks like a giant desert tent and another is the shape of a traditional man’s woven hat, called a gahfiya.
One has been built out of shipping containers to reflect Doha’s history as a port. The authorities have said its top tier, which is put together a bit like lego, can be dismantled after the tournament and reconstructed in a developing country.
The late British-Iraqi architect, Dame Zaha Hadid, designed another stadium inspired by the flowing shape of dhow boat which, regrettably, was compared to a woman’s vagina.
Qatar’s Supreme Committee for De)
Ms Hadid was furious when people started making the comparison after artist’s impressions were published in 2013.
“It’s really embarrassing they come up with nonsense stuff like this. What are they saying? Everything with a hole in it is a vagina? That’s ridiculous,” she said.
Room with a View
The Al-Bayt stadium has a five-star hotel room so you can literally step out onto your balcony and cheer on your team still in your dressing gown and slippers.
Turning the desert green
By the time the tournament kicks off a million trees will have been planted around the stadiums and recreation areas to bring greenery to the desert.
Qatar’s Supreme Committee for De)
Five years ago Qatar turned 800,000 square metres of desert into a giant nursery not only to grow the trees – many imported from China, Thailand and Australia – but also the pitch turf the matches will be played on. The site is irrigated with water recycled from a local sewage plant.
And some fake boos…
In 2018 a UK firm hired actors to stage a noisy protest at Downing Street when the Emir of Qatar arrived for talks with Theresa May. The dodgy demo was thought to have been the work of either Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates who at the time were involved in lengthy diplomatic row with Qatar.
The dispute was resolved at the beginning of the year and there is now general unity among Gulf countries ahead of the region’s first World Cup.
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