Qatar wants to make alcohol accessible for visiting fans when it hosts the 2022 World Cup and will use cruise ships to ensure it can accommodate an expected one million visitors, the head of the organising committee told reporters on Thursday.
Nasser Al Khater, chief executive of the 2022 World Cup, also promised that fans from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt, countries currently boycotting the Gulf state, would not be barred. The four have accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, which it denies.
Qatar was the surprise winner of the race to hold the tournament in a vote in 2010 and is by far the smallest country in size ever to have hosted the event, raising questions as to how it will manage the influx of fans and whether supporters will be able to let their hair down.
“Qatar is a conservative country, it’s a modest country, alcohol is not part of our culture however hospitality is,” Al Khater told a group of reporters.
“For the World Cup, we want to make sure (alcohol) is accessible for fans that travel from abroad that want to have a drink while they are here, so we want to find designated locations for fans to have alcohol other than the traditional places.”
Until now, FIFA and local organisers have said only that they had not reached an agreement on whether alcohol would be served in stadiums or fan zones.
Al Khater said the country of 2.7 million would also consider lowering the price — currently around $15 for a half litre of beer.
“The issue of the cost of alcohol is something that is being discussed right now,” he said. “We recognise there is an issue with price.”
Alcohol in Qatar can only be bought and consumed in a handful of hotels while visitors cannot import it into the country. Being drunk in a public place is socially unacceptable.
In January, Qatar added a 100 percent alcohol tax that increased prices but then lowered them around 20 to 30 percent.
Asked how Qataris might react to all-day drinking and rowdy behaviour by visiting fans, Al Khater said: “I don’t think it risks alienating Qataris as long as the right formula is found.” He added that security forces needed to find a “delicate way” to cope with anti-social behaviour.
They would be trained to “make sure that things which are culturally different are seen in the (context) that what might be acceptable to an England fan might not be acceptable here, to make sure we bridge that gap,” he said.
Al Khater said homosexuals had nothing to fear in a country where homosexual acts are strictly prohibited, although the law is rarely enforced.
“Public displays of affection are frowned upon here but that applies to everyone,” he said. “I would like to assure any fan of any gender orientation, religion or race to rest assured that Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world and that they will all be welcomed here.”
Although he did not see a high risk of hooliganism, Al Khater said having the fans of all 32 teams in a small area could lead to altercations, adding that Qatar was looking at “unique accommodation solutions” including cruise ships and fan villages in the desert.
Qatar still views the tournament as a “World Cup for this region” despite the blockade which has made travel to the country more difficult and pushed air fares up.
Of the four countries boycotting Qatar, the teams of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the most likely to qualify.
“We have no issues welcoming fans from blockading countries, they are welcome to come now and they will be welcome to come in 2022,” Al Khater said. “I hope by then that situation would have been resolved.”
Qatar sees climate-controlled stadiums as the future
On a late September evening in Qatar a persistent 35 degree Celsius heat hung outside the 2022 World Cup host’s newly-built Al Janoub stadium, but down on the pitch the temperature was a cool 21 degrees.
Qatar, a tiny Gulf state known for its scorching desert climate, says it has designed an energy-efficient cooling system that can make its open-air stadiums usable even in summer temperatures that soar well into the 40s.
Soccer’s next global showpiece tournament was moved to November and December to avoid Doha’s intense summer heat, but Qatar decided to stick with the chilled stadiums in order to have future venues that would be usable year-round.
Al Janoub, a 40,000-seat venue made to resemble the sail of a dhow, or traditional wooden sailboat, was opened last May and is the first to showcase the new cooling system.
“You’re living inside a micro, climate-controlled bubble,” said Saud Abdul-Ghani, a Qatar University mechanical engineering professor who led the design, as he waved a bright orange thermometer to demonstrate the roughly 14-degree drop.
The stadium was the first of seven in Qatar to be completed ahead of the tournament. The other six are slated to be ready by the end of 2020 and an eighth, Khalifa International Stadium, was renovated and opened in 2017.
Along the pitch dozens of soccer ball-sized nozzles blow out chilled air, while tiny angular ducts beneath the seats keep the stands at 24-26 degrees. Censors around the stadium keep track of different zones and adjust the flow from a control room.
When asked the price tag of the cooling system, Abdul-Ghani said: “a good amount of money”, without providing a figure.
Doha has put the tournament at the centre of a national development plan aimed at diversifying its energy economy and projecting itself on to the world stage through sport.
Qatar World Cup organising committee officials have said the country is spending $6.5-7 billion on all stadiums and training facilities combined.
Thani Khalifa Al Zarraa, the project manager for Al Janoub Stadium, said the cooling system increased the cost of construction by two to three times, to around $6,000-7,000 per seat, suggesting a stadium cost of about $240-280 million.
Despite the chilled stadiums, Qatar has said its World Cup will have the smallest carbon footprint of any before it.
Nasser Al Khater, CEO for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, said Doha’s compact tournament will eliminate the need for domestic flights and a new metro system will further cut emissions.
Abdul-Ghani said the system, which has been left unpatented for others to adopt, requires about a fifth of the energy typical to cool spaces of the same size, such as airport terminals or closed baseball fields, because it continuously recycles air into small zones.
“The Americans, Mexicans and Canadians will surely look at this because of thermal stress on players,” Abdul-Ghani said, referring to the host nations of the 2026 World Cup.
The 2026 tournament will be expanded to 48 teams as opposed to 32 and matches will be played across the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Candidate cities include Miami, Atlanta, Orlando, Dallas, Houston and others which are notoriously hot and humid in the summer.
“With global warming, Paris was 40 plus, the U.K. 35 plus, so even the Europeans need to look at this carefully,” Abdul-Ghani added, referring to this summer’s heat-wave.