One year to go until 2022 World Cup - is Qatar ready?
Nov 18 (Reuters) - Sunday marks the point where it is one year to go until the opening match of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with the tournament, played for the first time in a northern hemisphere winter, rapidly taking shape.
The opening match will take place on Nov. 21 in the 60,000 capacity Al Bayt Stadium.
Kickoff will no doubt come as some relief to organisers as the football takes centre stage, shifting the limelight away from the numerous off-pitch issues, such as labour rights for migrant workers, that have surrounded the event.
Given Qatar is the smallest country in size (11,600 km2) to host a World Cup, and, as all the stadiums are situated in and around the capital Doha, supporters can attend multiple games on the same day.
Fans around the globe watching on TV can tune in to an unprecedented four back-to-back matches in one day.
There will be no repeat of the last-minute rush to finish stadiums and infrastructure, as was the case at the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
According to the organising Supreme Committee, five of the eight stadiums purpose-built for the World Cup are complete.
Two more - the Ras Abu Aboud Stadium and Al Bayt -- will be inaugurated during the Arab Cup -- a dress rehearsal event which starts on Nov. 30 and finishes a year to the day before the World Cup final on Dec. 18.
The last arena to be finished is the Lusail Stadium - the venue for the final.
"For all those who love football, this will be like a toy shop is for a child," FIFA President Gianni Infantino said this week.
"There will be eight, state-of-the-art stadiums – some of the most beautiful stadiums in the world within 50 kilometres (of each other), so it's going to be great. The World Cup is an occasion to get to know other cultures and other people."
Getting around Doha, according to the organisers, is not going to be an issue either.
"When it comes to our progress, we have completed 98% of the infrastructure works," Fatma Al-Nuaimi, spokesperson for the supreme committee, told reporters.
Qatar's hosting of the World Cup has been controversial.
As recently as April last year, organisers strongly denied allegations from the U.S. Department of Justice that bribes were paid to secure votes when the hosting rights were awarded in 2010.
The feasibility of playing a tournament in the searing Middle Eastern summer heat led to the event being shunted out of its traditional timeslot and played later in the year, while Qatar's labour system has been strongly criticised.
The government of Qatar said on Tuesday its labour system is still a work in progress but denied accusations in a report by Amnesty International that thousands of migrant workers were being exploited.
A 48-page report by Amnesty, Reality Check 2021, said that practices such as withholding salaries and charging workers to change jobs were still rife. Qatar's Government Communication Office rejected the allegations.
Players from Germany, the Netherlands and Norway have since worn shirts before World Cup qualifiers voicing concern over human rights in Qatar and there could be further protests in the leadup to the tournament.
Qatar hopes to attract 1.2 million visitors, roughly a third of its population, to the tournament.
All fans attending matches must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and organisers told Reuters they expect to be able to offer up to 130,000 rooms which could leave thousands of fans scrambling for accommodation.
Organisers have announced only partial details about how and where they plan to find those rooms, saying the total stock would be announced in due course, with desert "fan villages" and floating hotels in the harbour among potential solutions.
Fans from the majority of the traditional big hitters will be starting to plan their trips.
Brazil and Argentina will be there, while the first European group qualification phase is over with holders France sailing through.
Uruguay could be a notable absentee given their poor form in qualification, while the last two European champions Italy and Portugal must negotiate a tricky 12-team European playoff system to compete in the finals.
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