MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday handed over the mantle of World Cup host to the emir of Qatar, whose country will stage the 2022 edition of the tournament.
The ceremony marked a handover from the world’s largest country by landmass to one of the smallest. Qatar has a population of 2.3 million people and an area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Connecticut.
Qatar’s size, as well as its broiling temperatures and its lack of ready stadium infra-structure, have prompted some to question the decision by FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, to make it host. Qatar’s rulers say they will rise to the challenge.
With hours to go until the final between France and Croatia that will bring down the curtain on Russia’s hosting of this year’s tournament, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani joined Putin and FIFA chief Gianni Infantino at a Kremlin ceremony.
“Russia is handing over the relay baton for hosting the FIFA World Cup to Qatar,” Putin said.
“We are proud of what we did for fans of this wonderful sport. We ourselves, the whole country, got an enormous amount of pleasure from interacting with soccer, with the world of soccer, with the fans who came here from all over the globe.”
“I’m sure that our friends from Qatar will be able to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup on the same high level. We are, of course, ready to share the experience we acquired in holding the World Cup this year, along with our friends,” Putin said.
At the climax of the ceremony, Putin handed an official World Cup ball to Infantino, who then handed it on to the emir.
The Qatari emir said his country would apply all its efforts to making a success of the 2022 World Cup. “We hope to overcome all the difficulties,” he said.
He said his country would also try to outdo the success on the pitch of the Russian team, who surpassed expectations by reaching the quarter-finals.
“Although it will be hard to repeat that success as we’re a small country, but we are very keen on sport,” he said.
In the build-up to this year’s World Cup, some Western politicians called for a boycott over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and over allegations, denied by Moscow, that the Kremlin assassinates its opponents overseas.
There were also warnings from some campaign groups about the potential for hooligan violence, racist attacks and homophobia.
The tournament proceeded without any significant organizational hitches, there was no violence, and no widespread evidence of racism or harassment of gay visitors.
Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Toby Davis