Posted on January 09, 2011

No one really expected it to happen. A relatively unknown Islamic country - where temperatures can reach up to 118 degrees in the summer - would bid for the world’s biggest and most popular sporting event. And actually win.

But then nobody ever thought Qatar would become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Or that its sovereign wealth fund would hold assets of $85-100bn. Or that it could be home to the Arab world’s most successful independent television station. And of course, nobody thought that it would be able to cool stadiums to just 27 degrees when outside temperatures are soaring.

So, shouldn’t we all be celebrating rather than complaining? Ever since FIFA announced that Qatar had won the rights to host the 2022 World Cup, all we’ve heard is criticism. There aren’t enough hotels (there will be over 100 built). There is no transportation network (a metro is being built). Fans can’t drink after games (fan zones are being built). If you want to look at every problem, and every solution, then do what FIFA did - read Qatar’s bid document.

Yes, Qatar is hot. In fact it’s boiling. Leave the comfort of air conditioning for any minute during the summer and it’s sticky and unbearable. But the Gulf state has been working tirelessly for years to perfect the technology - renewable at that - which will allow players and fans alike to enjoy ideal temperatures during the matches, training sessions and at the many fan zones that will be erected across the country.

I was at the prototype stadium that the bid committee used to demonstrate this new cooling technology when it was sweltering outside. It really does work. So much so that during the FIFA inspection in September, some guests actually asked for the temperature to be turned up.

And it doesn’t just stop at the stadiums. Tests are already underway in several areas around Doha to cool outside cafes and restaurants, meaning that this type of technology might actually make living and working in the Middle East during the summer bearable in several years time.

President Obama wasted no time to put the boot into FIFA’s decision, yet even he conveniently forgets that in Texas - where had the USA won the tournament several games would be staged - temperatures soar well over 100 degrees in June.

Yes, Qatar is an Islamic country. But does that mean it doesn’t deserve the opportunity to host a World Cup? There are an estimated 1.2-1.6 billion Muslims in the world and Islam is one of the fastest growing religions, so surely it makes sense for a country built on Islamic principles to be able to host such a large and prestigious event.

Isn’t football all about bringing nationalities and people of every race and religion together? Isn’t it about time that the Middle East was given the chance to dispel those incorrect serotypes that are so often used in western media?

Doha certainly thinks so. When I spoke to Hassan Al Thawadi, the man charged with putting together the bid document, several months ago, he was very keen to talk about the positives that hosting a world cup can do for Qatar and its surrounding countries. “It will be a huge platform towards changing the Islamic and Middle East’s perception of the outside world,” he said.

“I truly believe in the power of football. I truly believe that football - and people might think it’s an extravagant claim - plants the seeds for an open, more accepting world towards other cultures and that in itself will create and pave the way for the future,” he added.

And it isn’t just Qatar that will reap the benefits. Experts are estimating that the entire Middle East could benefit from up to $14bn in economic benefits during the month long event.

We can be sure that for the next twelve years, the critics will only get louder. Jealousy doesn’t heal with time. But this is Qatar, and the Arab world’s time. And deservedly so.

This article is courtesy of Claire Ferris-Lay, deputy editor of CEO Middle East and writer at ArabianBusiness.