Qatar sports minister Salah bin Ghanem bin Nasser al-Ali told The Associated Press that the 2022 World Cup will set a new standard for excellence and that the Gulf state plans to enact labor reforms within the next few months.
Al-Ali said that Qatar tournament will be "almost impossible to beat" in terms of its quality.
In a wide-ranging interview with the AP, the minister also denied that Qatar was supporting terrorism and said that the country will use "creative" solutions to allow alcohol to be sold during matches. He was ambiguous when asked by the AP about gay fans attending the event, though the minister said that the matter would also be addressed.
The 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar in December 2010, but the decision to give the small Middle Eastern country the tournament has been criticized ever since. The bid process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were conducted simultaneously, has come under intense scrutiny amid allegations of corruption. FIFA's Ethics Committee is scheduled to reveal details of its investigation into the bid process this week.
The oil-rich country has also been criticized for a number of its policies, including poor treatment of migrant workers building infrastructure for the tournament. Qatar admitted earlier this year that almost 1,000 migrant workers had died in the last two years. Al-Ali told the AP that Qatar is deeply concerned about the condition of migrant workers and that the country planned to improve conditions soon, though the AP noted that critics have said the proposed reforms don't go far enough.
"We understand this problem. For us, it's a human question," he said. Qataris aren't "vicious people who are like vampires," he added. "We have emotions, we feel bad."
The minister was hazy when discussing Qatar's policies toward alcohol and gay fans, though he did say that the country's traditions would have to be respected.
"In the hotels and many areas we have alcohol but we have also our own system that people need to respect," he said, referring specifically to alcohol. "As we bid for 2022, we will respect all the rules and regulations by FIFA. We can study this and minimize the impact on our people and tradition. I think we can be creative, finding solutions for all of this. But we respect all the rules and regulations."
Al-Ali also responded to allegations that Qatar has been aiding terrorism, specifically the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as well as other extremist groups. He rejected this criticism, saying that it would not make sense for Qatar to finance terrorism while also trying to host big events like the World Cup.
Despite criticism of Qatar as a host, al-Ali told the AP that he expects to feel sorry for whomever hosts the tournament in 2026, saying that Qatar intends to impress the world with a successful World Cup. He said that he expects that when the tournament opens in 2022, he'll think to himself: "God help the country that will host the World Cup after us."
Qatar's climate has also been deemed unsuitable for play during the summer, when the World Cup is traditionally played. Soccer officials from around the world have been discussing how to address this issue, with the most likely solution being to move the tournament to winter months, despite the fact that it would disrupt the club season.
World Cup Supreme Committee secretary general Hassan Al-Thawadi said in a separate interview with the AP that hosting the tournament in the summer was not discussed as a viable option at a recent FIFA meeting and described the climate in November as "fantastic."
"The question of actually hosting it in the summer was not on the table," Al Thawadi said. "Amongst all those different recommendations that we were provided, I expressed my preference that the winter is the ideal time."
Al Thawadi also said that FIFA has never raised the possibility of relocating the tournament and thinks that doing so would not draw a positive reaction across the Middle East.
Russia will host the World Cup in 2018.
- Stanley Kay and Chris Johnson