NASSER AL KHATER: 'We were singled out and criticised for no fault of ours'
KUMAR RAVI / Doha Stadium Plus
December 5 - Heading the communication team of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Supreme Committee is not an easy task, especially when every Tom, Dick and Harry is taking pot shots at Qatar, hurling accusations and allegations almost on a daily basis. It is a high-pressure job, but Communications and Marketing Director Nasser Al Khater says pressure helps him do his job well.
On the second anniversary of Qatar winning the bid, Nasser spoke to Doha Stadium Plus exclusively.
Qatar won the right to host the ’22 World Cup in December, ’10. Soon after, the hosting agreement was also signed, but nothing much has moved forward since then. Why?
I’m afraid, you’re wrong to say nothing much has moved forward. A lot of work has been done. But unfortunately, many people would see progress only when they see big cranes and construction work. Of course, this is important and we’ll soon get to that point.
Frankly speaking, the process of selecting a project management consultant started soon after we won the bid and eventually we did it. We were cognisant of the importance of ensuring that correct foundations were put in place. We had to work on the structure of our organisation, put in place policies and procedures for the purpose, create a three-year strategy plan, develop business plans for each and every department. In between, we had to shift our offices too, from the Qatar Olympic Committee building to the Al Bidda Tower.
Look, to build just one house, you’ve to go through at least a year’s planning — to get the architectural design, drawings, approvals, and permission from authorities etc. So imagine how much home work would’ve to be done if you’ve to build 12 precincts. It isn’t just 12 venues, each stadium is a precinct. Can it happen overnight?
Qatar is in the news again, following FIFA Ethics Committee chief Michael Garcia’s statement that its World Cup bid could be investigated. What’s your reaction to this other than merely stating “everything was done as per rules”?
Look, FIFA is the ultimate decision-making body in world football. It decided to allot the ’22 World Cup to us. A decision was made after all possible scrutiny of our bid file. Moreover, it might also have realised that it’s time the World Cup was held in new regions of the world, a philosophy it adopted while allotting the ’10 edition to South Africa. All Mr Garcia said was that he had a mandate to look into allegations related to World Cup bids, including some of the past.
But I’ve to reiterate that our bid was clean, transparent and everything was done as per norms. If FIFA wants to have a relook or investigate, we’ve no qualms about it. Like I said, it’s the ultimate authority and it’ll have the final say. FIFA President Mr Sepp Blatter had made it clear that its Ethics Committee would investigate the matter if anybody had any evidence of wrongdoings, against any bidders.
Garcia said Russia’s successful bid for the ’18 edition and Germany’s ’06 bid would also come under scrutiny, if there’re any evidences. But the media seems to be highlighting only Qatar’s bid. Your reaction…
We believe in a free and an independent media. I’m sure it has a responsibility to protect its credibility. Why did you raise this question? I’m sure you might’ve felt there’s something unusual. So we don’t have anything to say about it. Let the media demonstrate its ethics. Anyway, there’s nothing new in this trend. We’re getting used to it. Ever since we won the bid, we were singled out and criticised for no fault of ours. It’s only some sections of the media that said Qatar’s bid was under investigation. This is a part of their smear campaign.
Do you think there’s a lobby or a group of disgruntled elements out there, targeting Qatar? If so, what could be its motive?
It could be possible, but I’m not sure. Anyway, media plays a very important role in opinion-making. But its role in the present society is fundamentally a function of how the society itself chooses to use the media. Look, when you bid for showpiece events like the FIFA World Cup and Olympics, the race is so intense that there could be disappointment when you lose it. So it’s obvious there could be disgruntled elements. This is quite natural. But in our case, I feel we were (and still) being singled out for some harsh criticism.
There’s a perception, in some section of the media, that Qatar won the bid mainly due to the influence of then FIFA ExCom member Mohammed bin Hammam. Do you agree?
No. It’s true that Bin Hammam happened to be a FIFA ExCom member at that time. But we should remember that he had just one vote. We got 14 votes in the final round, so why link our win only with Bin Hammam? There’re many others, like UEFA President Michel Platini, who’re openly saying they voted for Qatar. This means the majority of FIFA Executive felt the World Cup should be staged in the Middle East and Arab world, where it hasn’t been held so far.
It’s said a lie gets halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes. A lot of lies has been spread about Qatar and don’t you think it’s time to say the truth or at least counter the lies?
American philosopher William Penn once said, “Truth never lost ground by enquiry.” Facts are facts. What’s true is true and I don’t think it needs any decoration. Our bid was based on facts, technology and logic. It’s all well-documented. I feel it’s a waste of time for those spreading lies.
It’s true everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact and everything we see is a perspective, not the truth. If I say your continued silence is misconstrued as ‘some sort of a weakness’, will you agree?
I don’t think every time when someone criticises us, we should react. We believe in delivering on our promises and once we do that, it’ll silence our critics. When we need to announce something, you’ll hear from us. I feel some truths are better left unspoken. There’s no need to repeat something even though it’s truth. Sometimes, silence is golden!
You had announced that the first World Cup stadium would be completed in ’15. But subsequently, there’s no further news or proof of work being started. Why’s there a lull?
There’s no lull. Our project management consultants are working on it. We’re pretty clear about the stadium requirements. Remember, we’ve another 10 years to go. The Qatar Foundation Stadium will be breaking ground in the beginning of ’13.
FIFA is going through one of its worst times, with many of its top officials coming under a cloud of suspicion and allegations of bribery. Its credibility is perhaps at the lowest ebb. Do you feel you’re inadvertently caught up in its undercurrents?
We don’t subscribe to this view. We feel FIFA is moving forward in the right direction, under the able leadership of Mr Blatter. When you’re in public life, there’ll always be allegations against you. But until you’ve clinching evidence, allegations will remain only as allegations. So let’s not cast aspersions on anyone.
Uncertainty causes variance, contentions and controversies. It also raises doubts. Why doesn’t the Qatar Football Association tell FIFA to put all uncertainties to rest?
I don’t think there’re any uncertainties or controversies, perhaps, except in the minds of a section of the media. We’re pretty clear about our responsibilities and future plans, and we’re going ahead accordingly. We’re in constant touch and interaction with various teams within FIFA and you’ll soon hear more about our future strategies and plans.
Being a Host Nation, there’s bound to be a code of conduct and certain dos and don’ts. Do you think you’re helpless to counter some of the unfounded charges against you, raised by a section of the media?
Of course, there’s a protocol to be followed. I won’t look at them as any handicap. We should remember that there’re two World Cups to be held ahead of ’22. FIFA’s focus right now is on Brazil ’14 and then comes Russia ’18. Obviously, ’22 can’t take any precedence over ’14 and ’18. We’ve to bide our time.
Do you think the extra time (12 years) Qatar got has put you under some sort of a pressure, because it’s too early to begin work on certain projects which otherwise would’ve distracted the attention of cynics?
Cynics will be there everywhere, all the time. We aren’t worried about it. In a way, we feel it’s good that we got extra time so that we can plan and execute our projects. Some of the mega projects, like the Qatar Rail’s metro network, need time.
But at the same time, I feel, perhaps, six years would’ve been ideal from other perspectives, like branding and sustaining the momentum. Anyway, now we’ve enough time and by the Confederations Cup in ’21, we will’ve tried and tested our facilities, and approach the World Cup with full confidence and peace.
Qatar has always projected the ’22 World Cup as one for the Middle East. But we hardly hear or see any support from other nations in the region. Why is it so?
What sort of support do you mean? Everybody had welcomed FIFA’s decision to allot the World Cup to Qatar. All over the Mideast, you saw what it was like. The entire Arab world rejoiced. And I’m sure the whole world would extend the support when we organise the World Cup.
Will the ’22 World Cup be held in winter?
Look, we bid for the World Cup to be held in summer and we’re planning to organise it in summer. But if people at FIFA want us to host it in winter, then we’ll do it in winter.
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