Qatar's World Cup challenge magnified by track worlds issues

By A.P: Wednesday, October 9th 2019 at 00:05 GMT +3 | Athletics
Ethiopia fans cheer on their athletes as they compete in Men’s 10,000m final at the 2019 IAAF Athletics World Championships at the Khalifa International stadium, in Doha. [AFP]

By day, Juma Marzouq approves Qatar’s masterplans for the vast stadium infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.

By night, Marzouq goes into fan mode, tackling the challenge of filling soccer arenas in this tiny nation.

Marzouq has seen encouraging signs since Qatar’s breakthrough on the field in February, when it won the Asian Cup for its first major football title.

The urban planning expert last week glanced around the near-full stands of Al Sadd’s 15,000-seat stadium for the visit of Saudi Arabian side Al Hilal in the semifinals of the Asian Champions League, a small victory for the hosts.

“We have a new generation coming to the stadiums,” Marzouq said.

It isn’t always like this at football — or any other sport in Qatar — despite the ruling family’s thirst for bidding for elite events.

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Almost 4.8 kilometers from Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, far less boisterous scenes played out at Khalifa Stadium for most of the 10 days of the world track and field championships that ended Sunday. Organisers were left trying to explain away the thousands of empty seats.

“In every event there are lessons learned,” said Dahlan Al Hamad, vice president of the local organising committee. “You cannot build the fan in one day, you have to engage them in the sport, they have to know the system of the sport, they have to have their athletes and know about their lives.

“We are really increasing the number of fans,” he said. “If you could just compare today compared to 10 years ago you know, the fans here in Doha, it would be totally different than here.”

Just like Fifa’s contentious decision to grant the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, this was the first time the showpiece event on the track calendar had been awarded to the Middle East. The sparsely attended competition reignited concerns about Qatar’s ability to fill the eight stadiums that have been built from scratch or completely renovated to meet Fifa’s standards.

“People love (football) here,” said Al Sadd coach Xavi Hernandez, a World Cup-winning midfielder with Spain in 2010. “They are crazy for (soccer).”

Xavi is helping to promote Qatar’s football credentials to a world skeptical of the choice of location for sport’s premier quadrennial event.

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