Exclusive: Bin Hammam is Qatar 2022 Bid's "Biggest Asset"

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Sheikh Mohammed with FIFA president Sepp Blatter at the bid book handover in May (WFI/J.Corbett)
(WFI) Qatar 2022 bid chairman, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani tells INSIDER that AFC President and FIFA Ex-co member Mohamed Bin Hammam is the bid’s “biggest asset” and that he has been a crucial mentor for his team.

In a wide-ranging interview, Sheikh Mohammed discussed the regional implications of his country’s bid and the progress it has made over the past year.

His comments come as Bin Hammam has given his most forthright endorsement of his home country’s bid. In a lengthy post on his blog, Bin Hammam details economic, environmental and political reasons for the Gulf kingdom to host the tournament.

“Give Qatar the chance to host the FIFA World Cup 2022 and you will be amazed!!” he concludes.

Prior to the past few months, Bin Hammam had seemed remote from the Qatar 2022 bid, as he wrestled with his dual roles as Asian Football Confederation president and Qatari national.

He first came out in favour of the bid at the Soccerex Asian Forum in July, and at the Leaders in Football conference last month said that he would vote in the best interests of Qatar when making his selection for 2018.

But Sheikh Mohammed told INSIDER that Bin Hammam's support has been consistent throughout the bid process.

“When it comes to executive committee members we don’t really get involved in what happens inside the committee because FIFA is very strict,” he said.

“But outside the executive committee and within the bid itself Mohamed Bin Hammam has been a very good mentor to us. He’s been very helpful in advising us how to go about with our messaging and can have the biggest impact.

“He’s always been advising us and always been by our side. He’s definitely our biggest asset in the bid.”

Perceptions changed over past year
Speaking in London last month, before Qatar’s bid was linked by some reports to a FIFA ethics committee investigation into alleged vote collusion, Sheikh Mohammed told INSIDER that he was delighted with the progress the bid had made over the past year.

“The one thing that has significantly changed over the past year was perceptions,” he said. “People are now taking us much more seriously, taking our message much more seriously.”

He acknowledged that in the first days of the bidding process this was very different.

“It was very much “Who are these people? Where are they coming from? Why are they doing this? What does it mean to them?”,” he said.

“We’re very used to seeing conventional bidders, the big footballing nations which are always in the bidding races. So for us, that was our biggest challenge – to get into people’s mindsets, to get them to consider it, how much good it can do.

AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam (Getty)
“The biggest thing that has happened between now and then is that people are saying if technically we can pull this off then I think that when it comes to legacy and messages this is the most profound and positive bid in the race.”

INSIDER's interview came just a month after FIFA inspection chairman Harold Mayne-Nicholls cast doubt on technical aspects of the bid, to the surprise and disappointment of the Qatari bid team.

But throughout the interview the young Sheikh made several references to Qatar being “technically” able to host the tournament – not as a clearcut assertion but as if waiting for the publication of the full report to give Qatar the green light.

Sheikh Mohammed is not one to take anything for granted, but if FIFA give the bid their technical approval – as Qatar 2022 privately expect it to – then he feels anything is possible.

“What we can do in the Middle East is unmatched in any other region, by any other competitor,” he said.

“Football affects us more than anything. It can change our mindsets more than anything.

“We need this World Cup in the Middle East. People in the Middle East - their hopes and dreams are resting on the success of this bid.”

“It’s a great responsibility, but it’s a great privilege to be saying we represent the Middle East. We definitely want to bring it home.”

Bin Hammam stakes belief in compatriots’ bid
The Pan-Middle Eastern theme was also taken up by Bin Hammam when writing on his blog last week.

“Qatar is the representative of the people occupying the area between Mauritania in the Atlantic, to Aden in the Red Sea; and the land of more than 350 million people,” wrote the AFC president in an endorsement of the bid.

Bin Hammam went on to write about economic, environmental and political reasons for FIFA to award the tournament to his country.

“Qatar dreams that the power of football will enhance and consolidate the value of tolerance, respect, friendship and peace among us, the people of the Middle East,” he wrote.

He pointed to the role that Qatar has played as a regional leader and mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict, also facilitating peace talks on Darfur, and implies that this can be enhanced by hosting the World Cup.

He also writes about the zero-carbon cooling technologies, which the bid believes will revolutionise football in one of the hottest regions of the world. Bin Hammam says that the implications are environmental and economic as well.

“How many of you have seen or been to a stadia energized by solar power? Qatar’s stadia will be the first of many such stadia in the world,” he wrote.
 
“Can you imagine if all new stadia in the world and maybe some of the existing ones use clean energy? How much football will contribute to the reduction of global warming because of Qatar’s bid?”

Rather fancifully he suggested that Qatar’s proposed new cooling technologies can be used as an agent for global economic change. “Imagine the millions of jobs that will be created worldwide in order to serve this idea,” he added.

By INSIDER’s James Corbett

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