ZURICH/JEDDAH/DOHA: There was jubilation and celebration in Saudi Arabia and the whole of Middle East as Qatar created history by putting the Gulf and the Middle East on the soccer world map after being picked to host the 2022 World Cup finals.
Earlier, FIFA, the soccer world governing body, had named Russia as host of the 2018 finals, another first-time hosts.
Though many applauded the choice of Russia, it was the second announcement â€” Qatar to host the 2022 event â€” that brought raptures to the whole of Middle East.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter said soon after the vote: “We go to new lands. Never has the World Cup been in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and Arabic world have been waiting for a long time so I’m a happy president when we talk about the development of football.”
His sentiments were echoed by Qatar bid chief Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani, who said in Zurich: “Thank you for backing us and expanding the game. You will be proud of us and you will be proud of the Middle East”
The Russian delegation head and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said: “You have entrusted us with the FIFA World Cup for 2018 and I just can promise, we all can promise, you will never regret it. Let us make history together.”
Russia has vowed to waive visas and provide free ground transport for all ticket holders.
Real joy and celebration broke out in the Arab streets soon after Qatar’s name was flashed on the screen as the winner of the right to organize the 2022 finals. And there were quick reaction from Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Prince Sultan bin Fahd, head of the Youth Welfare Presidency and president of Saudi Football Federation, and Prince Nawaf bin Faisal bin Fahd, deputy president of the Youth Welfare Presidency, congratulated Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani on the success of the bid.
â€œQatar has placed Middle East football on the world map,” Sheikh Saud bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, head of Qatar’s Olympic Committee, said, as thousands converged on the Corniche and other public places in Doha in an outburst of joy.
Crowds watching the live broadcast on giant television screens burst into chants of “Qatar, Qatar” following the announcement, and younger fans blew plastic vuvuzela horns.
Brazilian soccer coach Leonardo Vitorino, who trains Al Gharafa â€” a Qatari soccer team, was pleased with the choice of Qatar. Vitorino said: “I think this is a victory not only for Qatar but for all Arab and Gulf countries. The country deserved it, because it has shown its organizational skills by holding several events with impeccable organization and will invest to make a remarkable World Cup.”
“By hosting the World Cup Qatar will honor all Arabs,” said Ashraf Jaber, a 34-year-old Egyptian who lives and works in Doha.
“The chance to watch the World Cup from Qatar will be unrivaled,” said Robert Khoury, a 25-year-old Lebanese resident.
Russia won by receiving an absolute majority in the second round, while Qatar was awarded the tournament by beating the United States in the fourth and final round.
England was the first bid eliminated in the 2018 vote, going out with only two votes in the secret ballot of 22 FIFA executive committee members.
Russia led the first round with nine votes, followed by the joint bids of Spain-Portugal with seven and Belgium-Netherlands with four. In the second round, Russia won the contest by receiving 13 votes while Spain-Portugal stayed the same with seven and Belgium-Netherlands dropped to two.
For 2022, the voting went the distance. Qatar led in all rounds with 11, 10, 11 and 14 votes. In the final round, Qatar beat the United States 14-8. The other contenders were South Korea, Japan and Australia.
In Saudi Arabia, ecstatic soccer enthusiasts, of all ages and both genders, were twittering feverishly on social networking sites. They were running out of one-word expressions: Mabrook, alf mabrook, wow, wonderful, testahil (you deserve it).
“I am delighted beyond words,” said an excited Jasim M. Al-Yaqout, the Eastern Province general manager of the Ministry of Culture and Information. “This has come as such a pleasant surprise. I feel so happy. I can’t tell you. This is a moment of pride for the Arab and the Muslim world. This is like a dream come true. Qatar had put everything at stake. They had pulled out all the stops. Alhamdulillah. Alhamdulillah. Alhamdulillah! You can only admire this small country’s courage in dreaming big. You will now see that 2022 will be the best-ever World Cup. Insha Allah, insha Allah, insha Allah! My special thanks to all those who voted for the Qatari bid. Shukran, shukran, shukran.”
“Finally, it seems, my dream of watching a World Cup match will come true in 2022 in Doha,” said an elated Lina Almaeena, the Jeddah United executive director and captain of the Women’s Basketball Division. “I have been wanting to attend a World Cup match since 1994 and to feel the electric atmosphere inside the stadium. What fun it will be to watch a match in Doha surrounded by hundreds of cheering fellow Saudis.”
Almaeena feels Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup will elevate the level of sports in the region. “Not just football, this will spawn a huge interest in all kinds of sports. Academies will sprout up everywhere and the world’s biggest sporting event will motivate the whole region to gear up and cheer up.”
Journalist Hadi Fakihi said Qatar deserved it. “They worked very hard for it. I feel as if Saudi Arabia has won the bid. For us here in Dammam, there is no difference between Riyadh and Doha. Just like Riyadh, Doha is a mere four hours drive from Dammam. As it is, Saudis drive to Doha in large numbers to attend film, cultural and music festivals in Doha. Soccer-crazy Saudis will get the chance of their lifetimes to attend World Cup matches. I can picture Saudis dancing and making merry in their signature style during the 2022 matches. Wow, what fun will it be. I wish 2022 was tomorrow.”
Alkhobar-based top management executive Hafiz Azzubair had a special reason to celebrate the announcement. “My brother and my nephews are in Doha. The first I did was to call them up and to congratulate them. As an Arab, as a Saudi and as a Muslim, I feel privileged. Qataris are meticulous planners. They did a fantastic job hosting the 2006 Asian Games. They were superb and earned the respect of all the sporting nations. World Cup will be the best. Qatar will ride the wave of this euphoria and we the people of the Gulf will be by their side.”
Nasreen A. Abdul Rahman, a banker in Riyadh, reacted in the most unusual way. She blew the vuvuzela at the other end of the phone line. “That is my reaction,” she said. “I had thrown this vuvuzela in the attic after the last World Cup. The moment I heard the great news, I ferreted it out. And I am blowing out of sheer joy. Well done, Qatar. Testahil, testahil (you deserve it, you deserve it.) “
Hussein Ali Nagoor, honorary member of Hilal club, too expressed his happiness for, saying it will change the concept of sports in the Arab world. He said that the biggest advantage is the setting up of a perfect sport infrastructure in Qatar that will benefit the country in the future.
Ali Muhammad Al-Hassoon, editor of Albilad newspaper, said he became teary-eyed when Qatarâ€™s name was announced as the hosts for 2022. â€œThey really made it.â€
“Qatar deserved it. I knew that Qatar will win the hosting rights and, it means that finally FIFA trusted an Arab country to organize it. A country that is capable of organizing a big event like the Asian Games, will be capable of organizing something as big as the World Cup,” said Salem Ali, University student.
Muhsin Al-Shareef, an employee in a private company, said: “In World Cup 2022, Qatar will show the world that they are not a small nation and they are as big as the developed nations. Qatar’s win is everybody’s win. We in Saudi Arabia are very happy for Qatar and I am sure that Qatar will change the image of the Arabs in the eyes of the world.”
Another employee in the private sector, Sultan Al-Otaibi said: “Finally the world did justice to Qatar. Any decision other than choosing Qatar would have been discrimination. Earlier, the world did not trust South Africa, a nation mired in racial discrimination, to organize the World Cup and they did a good job and shocked all critics. Qatar is a stable country, rising faster than the speed of a bullet. They are the only country in the Middle East, in my opinion, capable of organizing such an event.”
Sarah Al-Ghamdi, university student, said: “I envy Qatar on this achievement. They have vision and they will do the impossible to achieve their vision and goals. I wonder why the rest of the Arab countries are not learning from Qatar. Qatar is an example of a country that rose to the international level very quickly. They deserve nothing but the best.”
It was the first time FIFA had carried out a vote for two World Cup finals at the same time.
â€” With inputs from Siraj Wahab, Naif Muhammad, Galal Fakkar and agencies