World Cup countdown enters final week as focus sharpens on Qatar
On Monday, the final countdown started for the World Cup in Qatar, which has been called one of the most contentious championships in the history of the sport.
Domestic leagues have suspended play for the next six weeks to make way for the event, but the teams have little time to prepare.
On Sunday, the host country will play the Ecuadorian side in the first match of the first World Cup to be staged in the Arab world.
The World Cup has been moved from its traditional position in the northern hemisphere summer to escape the Gulf’s blazing heat, a radical reorganisation of the international football calendar made necessary by the decision to hold the tournament in a desert state.
Paris Saint-Germain won 5-0 on Sunday in Ligue 1 against Auxerre, and three of the tournament’s top personalities (Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappe) all played and were not injured.
Mbappe, who will lead France’s championship defence in Qatar, went out on a high note by scoring PSG’s first goal.
On Monday, teams will submit their final rosters.
Iran included star player Sardar Azmoun, who has spoken out in favour of the protests in his native country, in their final 25-man roster.
Azmoun, who now plays for the German club Bayer Leverkusen, has taken to social media many times to express his solidarity with the protesters after the murder of Mahsa Amini, 22. The rioting has claimed the lives of hundreds.
Iranian soccer supporters in Qatar have been urged to yell “Amini” during matches by activists.
An angry argument
Qatar’s unprecedented battle to win the vote to secure the tournament and then invest tens of billions of dollars to develop stadiums and infrastructure culminates with Sunday’s first game.
FIFA’s calls for attention to be directed away from the controversy over the Gulf state’s treatment of migrant workers, women, and the LGBTQ community have met with little success as the tournament’s opening kickoff draws near.
Since Qatar was granted the World Cup in 2010, South Asian labourers have been at the centre of a contentious issue concerning fatalities, injuries, and poor working conditions.
Amnesty International has issued an urgent call to FIFA president Gianni Infantino to provide a compensation package for the workers who constructed the tournament’s glittering venues.
The majority of the assaults on Qatar have been met with furious rebuke, and local media have condemned the “arrogance” of several Western nations.
Sophia Stone, a British expat living in Doha, has spoken out against what she calls “unfair” media coverage.
Not everything you hear in the news is true, she advised AFP. From what I’ve been reading, Qatar isn’t like that at all; rather, the people and culture there seem quite kind and accepting.
The little nation of 3 million people has splurged since it is a major natural gas exporter.
More than $6.5 billion was spent on new stadiums, and an additional $36 billion was spent on a driverless metro system to connect five of the eight stadiums.
The decade-long investment in infrastructure, according to some estimates, topped $200 billion.
More than a million fans are expected to visit Qatar, and organisers are employing three cruise ships as hotels in response to worries over a shortage of rooms. For the first two weeks of the event, they are completely booked.
Fans have been waiting outside the FIFA ticketing centre in the hopes that tickets to the most popular games would become available, despite the fact that just 2.9 million of the 3.1 million tickets have been sold.
On Monday, Qatar claimed that three foreign males had been caught outside of official ticketing centres in Doha, marking the country’s first arrests of World Cup ticket touts. Neither their age nor nationality were specified.
Concerns are high in Europe that a nation with such little football history would host the tournament.
Philipp Lahm, captain of the German team that won the 2014 World Cup, stated on Sunday that Qatar should never have been permitted to host the World Cup due of rights violations.
In an editorial for Die Zeit, Lahm argued that it was wrong to give the World Cup to Qatar. It’s out of place there.
Germany’s World Cup plane, according to Lufthansa, will include the slogan “#DiversityWins!”
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