Date : 22nd January, 2014
Time : 59’44”
Total Distance Run to date : 120 km
Run map and details : http://connect.garmin.com/activity/439933839
Mention Qatar to anyone in the UK and the chances are that they’ll immediately start talking about the World Cup. As an avid football fan, I’m afraid that was also my approach when talking to people in Qatar.
Needless to say, everyone based in Qatar has heard it all before and there was a slight roll of the eyes when I raised the subject. However, their responses were fascinating and the complete mirror image of the views usually expressed in the UK. Concern that the World Cup might be taken from Qatar rather than a concern that it might be held there. Concern that it might not be moved from its traditional mid-year slot rather than concern about the disruption such a move might make to the football season. A feeling that the Guardian had overdone their report into working conditions for construction workers on World Cup stadia and so on.
But before we go any further into the football, let’s talk about that other locally based international sporting event – the Qatar leg of Run the World. I was joined by the British Embassy, the Doha Bay Runners, and local media including Qatar TV who filmed us at various stages along the run. To be fair their presence was probably mostly due to British Ambassador Nick Hopton coming along on the run but it was good to see.
The run itself, in beautiful weather, went along the Doha Corniche from the Sheraton to the Museum of Islamic Art and back again. About 11 of us set out on the run and about half of us made it to the end. We took it all at a fairly gentle pace which was perfect for me after 5 runs and endless flying, transferring, airport security queues, packing and unpacking in the previous week. To put it in context, one of the runners came with her baby in a push chair and comfortably managed to keep pace…
A couple of media interviews at the finish and then that was it – my Gulf leg of Run the World was over. Despite a deep weariness after all the running and travel I was sad to be leaving the region – it really is quite extraordinary. Visit if you can.
Many, many thanks to Nick Hopton, Roz Griffith, Ian Lacey and Lucy Ratcliff for all their help and support organising the run and the media – please see below – and to everyone else who joined us on the run.
– Qatar TV (interview with British Ambassador) : https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151934763182947
– FCO Arabic Site : http://arabic.fco.gov.uk/?p=474
– British Embassy Qatar Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/media/set/set=a.10151935163862947.1073741836.180991947946&type=1
And now, for any football fans out there, back to the World Cup. Let’s start with the timing since that’s been the subject of most media coverage in the UK. Everywhere I went in the Gulf, I was told that temperatures hit 40 to 50 degrees in the (Northern hemisphere) summer months. The reaction to such heat is entirely rational – everyone stays indoors (or leaves the country) and everything comes to a virtual standstill.
There’s also complete faith across the region that the Qataris will be capable of air conditioning the pitches so that the players can play in the heat. And then everyone goes on to say that the question remains as to whether that can be extended to cover the fans, players and media outside the stadia. Overall, it’s hard to see how June and July (the months the World Cup has always previously been played in) were ever an option. And equally hard to believe that there was anyone who didn’t know that.
Personally I don’t have a problem with the World Cup being played in the Nov – February period. You can’t rule out whole swathes of the world from hosting the World Cup just because their weather doesn’t tie in with the European football season. And, who knows, perhaps the European based players would be less exhausted at that stage of the season and the World Cup all the better for it. Certainly I can personally testify to the fact that the weather can be beautiful in Qatar in January. (Not sure I’d feel so charitable on this point if I’d been one of the opposing bids..)
However, I’m not sure this is the main issue. I suspect the bigger question for FIFA is the strategic one of where World Cups should be held. Qatar is an enthralling country experiencing great growth of the back of great wealth. It is also in the Middle East – a region that’s never hosted the World Cup.
On the other hand, it’s a small country with no real footballing tradition or existing infrastructure. Alcohol is tightly controlled and, rightly or wrongly, that plays a big in many fans’ enjoyment of the World Cup. Will it be good for the World Cup and, more broadly, for football? Assuming FIFA doesn’t reverse its decision, I guess we’ll find out in 2022…