This World Cup can’t come sooner for the world

There is a small street about 20 km from downtown Doha that I think fundamentally reflects the Qatar 2022 World Cup slogan: “We are better together.”

Ahmad, who owns a small shop on the street, says the place looks like Kabul, his hometown in Afghanistan. He has lived in Qatar for five years, like many other Afghans who have settled here after fleeing the Taliban regime, hoping for a new start and a better life.

The street is long enough to house all manner of shops and, as Ahmad noted, its clutter and chaos is reminiscent of Kabul. There is the midday symphony of honking vehicles, laughing people and World Cup comments from television sets. It tells me that everyone is counting on each other and considers Qatar their second home.

Immigrants make up a large part of Qatar’s population and bring with them their culture: their food, their clothing and their religion. Their sweat and toil have built malls and stadiums and freeways and skyscrapers; Things that Qataris could not do alone.

In such a close-knit community, temporary breaks in the World Cup have a special appeal.

Ahmad is a Messi fan and supports Argentina but Adesh, an Indian, loves Neymar and Brazil. Khaled, a Syrian, only dreams of Ronaldo and a final between Portugal and Argentina.

Fans watch the Qatar v Ecuador open match during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar in Ibarra, Ecuador, November 20, 2022.  Photo by Reuters/Karen Toro

Fans watch the Qatar v Ecuador open match during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar in Ibarra, Ecuador, November 20, 2022. Photo by Reuters/Karen Toro

The 2022 World Cup is a special tournament – not only because it takes place in the smallest country that hosted the biggest event in the world; and not just because Qatar is the first Gulf state to host the tournament. This year’s World Cup comes at one of the most delicate times in world history.

We have the situation in Ukraine and an ongoing economic recession that is threatening governments in many countries. Qatar faces challenges of its own, including allegations of corruption, a lack of labor protections, a lack of LGBT rights and even controversy over a beer-drinking ban.

As such, this year’s World Cup could be the most turbulent yet, for reasons unrelated to the sport itself.

When a country decides to spend $300 billion over more than a decade to stage the most expensive and impressive World Cup in history, money is no longer an issue. It’s about the image of the country and about investments.

It’s about how football becomes something of a soft power when a country decides to make a World Cup the most memorable in history.

The party has already started, with the starter being Sunday’s Qatar vs. Ecuador game. We are all waiting for the main courses to be served in the coming weeks.

With this tournament, Qatar took an important step towards gaining the recognition and admiration of the world. A country not really known for its football and which only opened its Aspire Academy in 2004, Qatar organizes a World Cup for all and connects people from everywhere.

Over the next month, billions will be in front of their TVs while over a million fans will visit Qatar to watch matches live in spectacular stadiums that have sprung up where just a few years ago there were only white sandy beaches.

With the greatest sporting event underway, the peace-loving world has reason to hope that gunfire and conflict will subside as the ball rolls on.

Billions are holding their breath to see what football superstars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will come up with after many disappointments in previous World Cup seasons.

This tournament promises renewal and joy, especially after the world has endured a painful pandemic.

No matter how this year’s World Championship ends, no matter who reigns supreme, this tournament will remain an exceptional event at an exceptional time.

It can be a rare time of healing and unity for the whole world.

*Truong Anh Ngoc is a Vietnamese journalist based in Hanoi.


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