20 Nov Qatar criticism highlights a fear of the unknown

By James Fairbourn

Two days ago, Qatar were awarded the rights to host the 2019 World Athletics Championships. It will certainly be a challenge for the fledgling nation as it will have to follow London’s 2017 effort – and we all know that the stadium will be ‘full for every single session’ of that event (so says Lord Coe).

The decision to head to the Middle East has prompted the predictably hysterical reaction from those who should really have better things to do than moan about things they cannot control.

Firstly, the weather. Everyone’s favourite topic at the moment owing mainly to the far larger World Cup event due to take place in the same nation at some stage (God knows when) in 2022. “Nearly 100 degrees” breathless western journalists have harrumphed – notice they always use Fahrenheit when underlining how high the temperature will be.

True – it will be warm. But I doubt it will be much hotter than it was at the Athens Olympics in 2004. “But it’s being hosted in the Autumn” – sensibly so given the prohibitive temperatures in the summer. Just as sensible that the 2000 Sydney Olympics were hosted in September, the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealths in March and the forthcoming 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealths in April. As far as I am aware, Qataris have never sought to hide the fact that their country is rather warm from the world. Will IAAF chiefs turn up in the way FIFA suits and say ‘gosh, it’s hot – right, everyone out’?

The plight of migrant workers in Qatar is genuinely troublesome. However, if we are to get into the way host countries treat either their citizens or visitors to their lands, it is a surprise that China were able to host such a successful Games in 2008.

Whilst pressure must be applied to the organising committee to ensure the human rights abuses that have been taking place in the construction of stadia for the FIFA World Cup, is it really a reason to strip a country of its right to host the event? Isn’t this more about bringing the sport to a wider audience and increase participation (60% of the Gulf’s population is under 30)? Few doubt that, with all their wealth, Qatar can’t pull off a quite spectacular show.

Most of this comes down to the Western concern for the unknown. Qatar is, of course, a Muslim land. A safe haven in a troubled region, yes, but it is full of people who have a fundamentally different approach to life than the majority of the athletics world. Their entanglement in the affairs of Israel and Palestine are unlikely to help their plight when Western journalists get their teeth into them.

But surely that is sport’s job. It is to rise above the politics and spread the wonders of being active and competing. For once, the IAAF got it right – Qatar 2019 will be a great success.

Image from Aljazeera.com