Criticism levelled at the Qatar World Cup by the West emboldened the Arab world to get behind the tournament and make it one of the most successful this century, organisers said at the World Government Summit in Dubai.
The World Cup was the largest sporting tournament in the region and, along with Expo 2020 Dubai, carved out a blueprint for how other global events could be staged in the Middle East.
Sustainable buildings and a legacy of hosting follow-up events, such as Cop28 to be held in Dubai this year, were clear examples of how to utilise new infrastructure, the summit heard.
Speaking at the session called Hosting Major Events: An Arab Success Story, Nasser Al Khater, who was chief executive of the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022, said the criticism began as soon as the country won the bid to host the tournament, and continued until the event kicked off.
Questions were raised over Qatar's treatment of migrant workers, plus its perceived lack of footballing heritage, in the build-up to the competition.
A late decision to ban alcohol in stadiums also made headlines, but Qatar won widespread praise for the warm and welcoming atmosphere at the event in which fans happily mingled together before and after games.
“We heard criticism from the western media, and some western entities wanted failure,” he said.
“But they did not get what they wanted and we were a huge success. It warmed the hearts of Arabs with what was achieved.
“We wished this World Cup after Covid-19 would go smoothly – and it was – we were the first country to bring the fans back into the stadiums.”
Of the eight World Cup stadiums in Qatar, only Khalifa International Stadium will remain in its current form.
Al Bayat Stadium will be transformed into a five-star hotel and mall, while Education City Stadium will be used by local schools and universities, and Al Thumama stadium will host events and become a hotel.
Lusail Stadium is to be turned into a mixed residential and commercial centre, while the Stadium 974 built out of shipping containers has already been dismantled.
The tournament in Doha was the first time a single city had staged all 64 World Cup matches. It was also the first time the World Cup was held in an Arab nation.
According to Qatar, cumulative attendance reached 3.4 million people and host broadcasters beIN Media Group recorded more than 5.4 billion views and 1.1 billion views on its official social media channels throughout the month-long tournament.
The experiences of hosting the Qatar World Cup and Expo 2020 could be used by neighbouring states to host future events, the panel said.
“These two events will be very difficult to replicate for future states,” said Mr Al Khater.
“We focused on the experience of the fans, and the small geography was a major factor of our success.”
Region ready to welcome the world
Saudi Arabia will host the 2023 Fifa World Club Cup and has ambitions to host a Fifa men’s World Cup in 2030 with Greece and Egypt.
The kingdom also plans to stage the 2029 Asian Winter Games at the Trojena mountain resort, due to be completed by 2026.
Meanwhile, Qatar is rumoured to continue its sporting legacy by submitting a bit to host the 2036 Summer Olympics.
Najeeb Al Ali, executive director at the Dubai Expo 2020 Bureau, said the world's fair was 11 years in the making and required a huge amount of planning.
“We wanted to understand what it was all about and that it had to be exceptional, with a heritage of some sort,” he said.
“There were some 24 million visitors, but 40 per cent were from the UAE which was unique.
“We chose the extension of Dubai, a place geographically south and close to the airport where we could see new developments.
“In a few months we will host Cop28 in Dubai, and use the same infrastructure. We did not want this space to be vacant and unused.
“This is a huge sustainability achievement for the UAE.”