World Cup 2022 happening in the right place at the right time

November 21, 2022 | 06:31 pm PT
Truong Anh Ngoc Journalist
On the heels of an economic recession, against a backdrop of conflicts and an economic recession, this year's World Cup serves as a reminder that humanity always stands taller together.

There is a small street about 20 km away from downtown Doha that I believe quintessentially reflects the Qatar World Cup 2022 slogan: "We are better together."

Ahmad, who owns a small store on the street, says the place looks like Kabul, his hometown back in Afghanistan. He has been in Qatar for five years like many other Afghanis who have settled here after escaping from the Taliban regime, hoping for a new beginning and a better life.

The street is long enough to host all kinds of stores and as Ahmad noted, its messiness and chaos is reminiscent of Kabul. There's the midday symphony of vehicles honking, people laughing and TV sets blasting World Cup commentaries. It tells me that everyone relies on each another, and treats Qatar as their second home.

Immigrants make up a large part of Qatar's residents, and they bring their cultures along: their food, clothing and religions. Their sweat and toil has built malls and stadiums and highways and skyscrapers; things that Qataris would not be able to do on their own.

Amidst such a tight-knit community, temporary fractures caused by the World Cup have a special charm.

Ahmad is a fan of Messi and supports Argentina, but Adesh, an Indian, loves Neymar and Brazil. Khaled, a Syrian, only dreams of Ronaldo and a final between Portugal and Argentina.

Fans watch the open match Qatar v Ecuador during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in Ibarra, Ecuador, November 20, 2022. Photo by Reuters/Karen Toro

Fans watch the open match Qatar v Ecuador during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in Ibarra, Ecuador, November 20, 2022. Photo by Reuters/Karen Toro

The World Cup 2022 is a special tournament – not just because it is happening in the smallest country to have hosted the world's biggest event; and not just because Qatar is the first Gulf state to host the tournament. This year's World Cup happens during one of the most sensitive times in the world's history.

We have the situation in Ukraine and an ongoing economic recession threatening governments in many countries. Qatar faces its own challenges including accusations of corruption, lack of labor protection, lack of LGBT rights, and even controversy over a ban on drinking beer.

Therefore, this year's World Cup might be the most tumultuous yet, for reasons totally unrelated to the sport itself.

When a country decides to spend $300 billion over more than a decade to create history's most expensive, impressive World Cup, money is no longer the issue. It's about the country's image and about investments.

It's about how football becomes a kind of soft power when a country decides to make a World Cup the most memorable one in history.

The party's already begun, with the appetizer being Sunday's Qatar v. Ecuador match. We are all waiting for the main courses to be served over the coming weeks.

With this tournament, Qatar has taken an important step in winning the world's recognition and admiration. As a country that is not really known for its football, and that only opened its Aspire Academy in 2004, Qatar is organizing a World Cup for everyone and connecting people from everywhere.

Over the next month, billions will sit in front of their TV sets, while over a million fans will visit Qatar to watch matches live in spectacular stadiums that have sprung up where there were just stretches of white sand a few years ago.

With the biggest sporting event underway, the peace-loving world has reason to hope that gunfire and conflict will die down while the ball keeps rolling.

Billions are holding their breath to see what football superstars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will produce after many disappointments in past World Cup seasons.

This tournament promises renewal and joy, especially after the world has gone through a painful pandemic.

No matter how this year's World Cup ends, no matter who reigns as the champion, this tournament will remain an exceptional event at an exceptional time.

It can be a rare time of healing and unity for the entire world.

*Truong Anh Ngoc is a Vietnamese journalist in Hanoi.

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