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Qatar residents optimistic about 2022 World Cup

World Cup fever is in full swing in Qatar's capital Doha as hotels offering the tournament's viewing packages are booked out weeks in advance
Qatari youth looking forward to their county's hosting of the 2022 World Cup (MEE/Joanne Lisinska)

DOHA - Qataris eagerly watching the World Cup, hopefully preparing to host the tournament in 2022, have rallied to defend the tiny Emirate, dismissing an escalating corruption scandal surrounding their own 2022 bid for the tournament as a smear campaign motivated by jealousy. 

World Cup fever is in full swing in the glimmering capital Doha; hotels offering World Cup viewing packages are booked out weeks in advance, huge screens have been erected in lavish tents and squares across the city, and visitors to the newly opened, multi-billion dollar airport are greeted with large screens beaming promotional videos for 2022.

"We don't care what anybody says. It's just talk. They don't want us to have it," says Hamid, in his late twenties, as he arrives amid the throngs packing the shisha cafes of Souq, Wafeq, where large screens have been set-up. 

Calls to strip Qatar of the lucrative tournament have mounted, following a recent expose by the Sunday Times and Times of London, claiming a trove of emails showed Qatar's FIFA officials had paid out millions of dollars in bribes and favours to influence football associations and Fifa executives backing of Qatar for the bid. 

"Qatar has won the bid on its merits and we are confident that at the end of the appropriate process, the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar will stand," a statement on June 8 read.

Qatar has forcefully denied the claims in statements issued through the World Cup organising body, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.

Also damaging Qatar's image are media campaigns, led by The Guardian UK, aimed at highlighting human rights abuses, poor pay and conditions for expatriate workers in Qatar, including those working on the multi-billion dollar construction projects for the World Cup.

US Senator Bob Casey wrote to Fifa on Friday, asking that the 2022 World Cup be given to his country, citing concerns about workers' rights and corrupt practices in Qatar's bid.

In an op-ed recently published in The Guardian, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmad Al-Thani presented a case for why Qatar should be allowed to host the tournament. 

"…there are also good and legitimate reasons why Qatar beat better known rivals to host the tournament in eight years' time. It is just that we have struggled to get a hearing," Hamad wrote. 

"I accept that we spent more money campaigning than other bids, but this was solely to catch up with our better known rivals. We had to tell people about our country and what we could offer, to overcome the perceived obstacles. But from the day we launched our bid to the day our country's name was pulled from the envelope in Zurich, we played strictly by the rules. This is why we are happy to cooperate fully with the Fifa inquiry into the bidding process. We have nothing to hide or fear," he stated. 

Football fans in Qatar watching a 2014 World Cup match on a huge screen (MEE/Joanne Lisinska)

Hamad also addressed the issue of Qatar's searing temperatures - which reached 54 degrees celsius last week - saying "It might seem to some that air-conditioned stadiums are flights of fancy, but we have had cooling systems for outdoor events since 2008," also promising to share research and technology on solar cooling systems with other nations.

"We set out to Fifa how we wanted the World Cup to be a catalyst for positive change in our region."

On the streets of Doha, Qataris and expatriates - who make up some 85% of the population of two million - also talked up the positive effect the Cup could have in a troubled region.

"We are happy to have all the world here. It's not just good for Qatar, this is good for all the region," said Amer, in his 30's, who like others, asked that his surname not be used. 

Ahmad Jassim al-Jolo, chairman of the Qatar Society of Engineers, whose members are involved in the implementation of the 2022 projects, said that Qatar's hosting of the World Cup would serve to boost morale in the region, in addition to the obvious economic benefits. 

"Besides the economic gains, there will be gains socially and culturally, and not just for Qatar," he said.

"When people talk about the Middle East, they talk about wars. I think this idea needs to be changed. We need something like this. It's about time we had one in this area."

"Arriving to the opening match in Souq Waqef, Qatari Abdulaziz, 22 and his Egyptian-British friend Haady, 26, agreed that the accusations were a smear campaign intended to strip an Arab country of the Cup.

"It's important for Qatar," said Abdulaziz. 

"They are just jealous, that's all. They say Qatar doesn't have a football culture, but what kind of football culture does South Africa have?" asked Haady. 

"The British media have an agenda for sure."

While his might be the prevailing sentiment inside Doha, there are signs the Qataris still have their work cut out turning the tide of public opinion, however. 

The overwhelming majority of comments posted online in response to Hamad's op-ed Friday slammed the plea.

"Has Qatar bought the Guardian, as well as the World Cup?" wrote one Guardian reader, using the name wspoonbill.