Five years before 2022 FIFA World Cup, Khalifa International Stadium sells out at inauguration - 45th Emir Cup Final match
by Shaikha Al Thani, Supreme Committee
DOHA, May 24, 2017 - In September 2016, during a visit abroad with His Highness the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, in Los Angeles, a question was raised by students during the event in which major Qatari projects took part, including the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), the entity in charge of the delivery of the infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup: “Is it worth it?”
Since winning the bid in 2010, there were various elements to this question – did we deserve the press that targeted us with false headlines? Were we supposed to fight fire with fire? Were we losing the community – who were asked all over the world about corruption, safety concerns, workers’ rights and the expanding growth at the expense of cultural and traditional norms?
The answer may not please everyone, but there is something we all agree on: the common language of sport. Football may not be what you love, but an event like the World Cup is undoubtedly supportive of what His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the father Emir, said in the bid book: “Hosting the world’s most prestigious sporting competition here in an Arab country for the first time would make incredible strides in further uniting the Middle East with the rest of the world and forging links between people of all backgrounds.”
In 1976, Khalifa International Stadium opened its doors for the first time to welcome the GCC for the fourth edition of the Gulf Cup of Nations. Since then, it has hosted the same event again in 1992, the 2006 Doha Asian Games, the 2011 Asian Cup and various other major friendlies and competitive matches. The proposed renovation for Khalifa International Stadium was fittingly revealed during the Gulf Cup in November 2014 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. No other sporting facility in Qatar has seen the amount of legends, historic or momentous occasions as Khalifa, the national stadium.
For the past five months, the country has been asking the same question: “Will it be revealed at the Emir Cup Final?” To non-engineers, various opinions floated around (“It doesn’t look finished.”) None of which mattered when you’re around 2000 days away from the tournament. The only thing that mattered was that it was done right.
For the estimated 5000 people who worked on Khalifa, and the hundreds of engineers and designers, the decision always revolved around one conclusion: it has to be done right. On the other hand, for the past few months, while the Technical Department Office worked tireless nights on the delivery of the venue, the Local Organising Committee did the same on the match organization, venue operations, marketing and ceremonial reveal of the first stadium ready for the tournament.
“Who said that this can’t be achieved? This is the future of football, this is Khalifa International Stadium.” The ceremony team was led with incredible support from the SC’s Assistant Secretary General, Nasser Al Khater, who never took the credit, but worked twice as hard as everyone. He gave the best piece of advice when I felt like I was losing sense of the plan for the reveal: “Your only aim should be delivering a successful event.” It’s easier than it seemed at that moment, but was one of the hardest lessons to learn – do your best, and that will be good enough.
The aim was the same for all members of the team: a World Cup-worthy experience. Anyone who walked away and asked the question asked in the beginning (is it worth it?) can make up their own mind based on facts, based on the experience and based on a sold out stadium. The speech of His Highness that night followed a narrative of Khalifa’s journey by the legendary commentator Youssif Saif, a solo violinist and a joint ribbon cutting ceremony by the Emir and 47,000 people.
“On behalf of every Qatari and every Arab, I declare Khalifa International Stadium ready to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” said HH the Emir. Behind the scenes, His Highness was aware of the ribbon cutting ceremony, but he spoke from his heart when he said that, insisting on what the first World Cup essentially is in the Middle East, a tournament for the region.
His Highness also honored the Chairman of the Technical Delivery Office at the SC, Engineer Hilal Al Kuwari to join him in cutting the ribbon. Al Kuwari was one of the children that took part in the 1976 Gulf Cup Opening Ceremony at Khalifa Stadium. He also led on the Khalifa International Stadium project and Aspire Zone Foundation since 2002, the SC’s stakeholder and the entity of the SC to which Khalifa International Stadium belongs. If anyone deserved to be next to His Highness during the cutting, it would have been Hilal. He was something of an icon of encouragement during the tough days at the SC, even when things weren’t perfect – he would always be the first person at work, and long after the last person to leave.
“I can make it snow, you know,” said Dr. Saud Abdul Ghani, the engineer leading the team behind the cooling technology at Khalifa International Stadium, where it is 42 degrees Celsius outside and could go down to 9 degrees Celsius inside. He was one of the many at the SC who worked hard for the love and passion of the project – never for the credit.
At various times during the experience of working on the May 19th Emir Cup Final inauguration of Khalifa International Stadium, where the team entered the stadium at 7am and left at 1am, the bid team’s message during the 2010 win became very relevant: “we won’t let you down.”
Which aims to answer the original question. If it wasn’t worth it – then we wouldn’t have fought this hard to prove our critics wrong. With five years left to the tournament, there is far more to come, but it has proven to be a worthwhile journey so far.
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