Suleiman Habuba

*German, US embassies commend Russia 2018 Fan Zones spread across the country

Former Director of Communications of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and now a football and business consultant, Suleiman Habuba, has been involved in the organisation of six FIFA World Cup including age-levels. With over 19 years experience in Sports Administration, Management and Governance, Habuba, who was in Russia to watch some of the matches including the Nigeria’s opening match against Croatia in Kaliningrad, later visited Qatar Fan Zones in Doha where he watched some matches. Habuba spoke with Duro Ikhazuagbe on what he saw in Qatar, the next host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and how the LOC has been sensitizing the people in readiness for the global football showpiece in four years time. Excerpts:

While the 2018 World Cup is currently being rounded up today in Russia, there are reports of a buzz all over Qatar, the next host of the tournament in four years time with the Fan Zones.

Personally, I’m amazed by the level of interest and enthusiasm from all the corners of the country, despite the fact that Qatar is not playing at Russia 2018. The FIFA World Cup may be taking place in Russia, over 3,000 miles away from Qatar, but the organisers of Qatar 2022 in collaboration with stakeholders have put in place many Fan Zones across the country. I visited three Fan Zones situated at the Katara Cultural Village, Al Bin Hamad Al Attiyah in Al Sadd and the Khalifa International Stadium, and they have offered football fans all over the country the opportunity to experience the vibrant and lively atmosphere of watching games and remain up-to-date with all the happenings in Russia.

But the Fan Zones appear more than just watching football matches?

You are right! The Fan Zones is an entire package designed to give fans and their families’ once-in-a-lifetime experience. The establishment was guided by the fundamental tenets of match organisations such as accreditation, hospitality, safety and security, medical and volunteering, entertainment. I was astonished when I visited Al Bin Hamad Al Attiyah in Al Sadd for the England versus Panama match and I was met with the greatest surprise at the welcome desk, with accreditation system in place not only for the media but for Fans and VIP. One needs to provide either a resident identity card or passport to complete the accreditation process. Once I provided the requested documentation, I received a wristband, then off to enjoy the match. The venue has a large parking space for cars.

Also, I saw all the required services stated in the terms of reference to organise a football match event such as visible signage, and security personnel with X-ray scanners for bags and other items. As I walked around, I saw an ambulance on standby with a fully equipped medical team on ground. There is also an access for persons with disabilities. In addition, there was entertainment with live musical performances by renowned artists. I am told many artists performed at Fan Zones, such as Cheb Khaled from Algeria, Hatim Ammor from Morocco, Mohammed AlFares of Iraq, Lebanese Ziad Bourji and Kuwaiti duo Essa Almarzougand Ibrahim Dashti. And before I forget, there was also a huge diplomatic interest in Qatar Fan Zones, I read some tweets from high profile diplomats based in Doha.

Which countries are you referring to?

Specifically from countries including United States of America (USA), Germany, France, The German Ambassador, Hans-Udo Muzel watched the Germany versus Sweden match inside a fan zone in Doha.

He posted a tweet on @GermanyinQatar to express his joy: “Yalla Almania! Tonight GER vs SWE, a nail biting match, watching it at the fantastic Fan Zone of Aspire Academy at Khalifa World Cup Stadium, great crowd!”

Also, the USA did not qualify for Russia 2018 but the United States Embassy Chargé d’ Affaires Ryan Gliha, is amazed with the turnout and organisation of the Fan Zone in Doha. He tweeted

@USAmbQatar: “Fantastic opening of the Qatar Fan Zone” adding “that it is a standard which the 2026 FIFA World Cup to be jointly hosted by USA, Canada and Mexico will find a mountain to match.

“Fantastic opening ceremony #WorldCup # Qatar Fan Zone Congrats @road to 2022 and @QTA Corporate, you will be a tough act to follow in #WorldCup2026! while referring to the standard which the 2026 FIFA World Cup to be jointly hosted by USA, Canada and Mexico will love to match.

On 16 June, 2018, the French Embassy invited French nationals living in Doha to watch the France versus Australia match. The translation of the French Embassy tweeted @FranceauQatar read: “At the invitation of the French Embassy in Qatar, numerous fans attended at the Lagoona Mall the first victory of France at this World Cup.”

These messages give me the feelings that foreign diplomats in Qatar are following the World Cup 2022 preparations with great interest.

Last May, at the stadium for the final of the 2018 Emir Cup between Al Duhail and Al Rayyan, I was told by a diplomat from one of the western countries that he was impressed with the level of progress regarding major infrastructure, stadia and he commended the leadership of the supreme committee in charge of delivery of the World Cup in Qatar.

What are the Drive-Thru in Katara you spoke about earlier all about?

It is situated at the famous Katara beach front. The Fan Zone is a real Drive-Thru, where fans can sit comfortably in their cars and watch the games on giant screens. And it is designed to accommodate hundreds of cars surrounded by over 40 food kiosks, where fans can order and have food and drinks delivered to them in their cars while watching the games from the comfort of their vehicles. This idea is great, and Qatar is not new to such ideas and hosting international sporting events.

What other major sporting events has Qatar hosted?

And I recall when the hosting of FIFA U-20 World Cup was taken away from Nigeria by FIFA because of alleged cholera outbreak at the eleventh hour in 1995, Qatar stepped in and delivered a wonderful tournament that saw the likes of Juan Pablo Sorin (Argentina), Michel Salgado, Ivan dela Pena, Joseba Etxeberria (all Spain), Geremi Njitap (Cameroon), Mark Viduka (Australia), Nuno Gomes (Portugal), Kiki Musampa (Netherlands), Hidetoshi Nakata (Japan) among others who cut their teeth to the world stage. Earlier in 1988, Qatar played host to the rest of Asia for the 1988 AFC Asian Cup when it featured 10 teams and as lately at 2011 (16 teams).

Significantly, the first ever FIFA Congress in the Middle East was staged in Qatar in October 2003 in Doha. Let me tell a funny incident with a colleague at the Confederation of African Football at the Cairo Airport. My colleague and I asked the air hostesses of Qatar Airways if we were actually in the Business Class and they responded positively “yes it’s the business class”. We thought it was a First Class because the cabin was big with huge seats. At that time, we were used to Business Class with small cabins (big laugher). From the hosting host of these tournaments and others in the areas of Handball, Boxing, Athletics etc has equipped Qatar with the necessary experience.

I think hosting these sporting events makes to recall the statement of the Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, Mr. Hassan Al Thawadi, highlighting sport’s power to transform a region’s social and economic development during a speech at the United Nations (UN). Speaking on the sidelines of the 2017 UN General assembly in New York, Al Thawadi said also Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup will “accelerate and inspire social development, cultural expression, technological progress and economic empowerment across the country and region”.