Opinion: Qatar’s Ambassador on why the Middle East deserves the opportunity to host soccer’s biggest event

Editor’s Note: Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani is Qatar’s Ambassador to the United States. This article responds to the CNN opinion piece written by Roger Bennett and Tommy Vietor. The views expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.

CNN  — 

In just a few days, Qatar will welcome more than one million visitors to our country for soccer’s biggest and most prestigious tournament: the FIFA World Cup. Not only are we ready and eager to host, but Qatar is deeply honored to bring a global event of this caliber to the Arab world for the first time – an opportunity for our region that is long overdue. It is also a great chance to alleviate misconceptions and prejudice not only against Qatar but about Arab and Muslim culture as a whole.

Qatar has always believed in the power of sport to drive positive change, bring people together, and build bridges of respect and cultural understanding. We know this tournament can help change misconceptions, and we want fans to travel home with a better understanding of our country, culture and region.

Previous and even future World Cup championships are held in places that many people from our region find less accessible and welcoming to our own cultures. The people of our region, many of whom are passionate soccer fans, finally have a World Cup in their own backyard. This tournament is an historic moment for the Arab world, and the 2022 edition should be celebrated for the equitable hosting moment that it is.

Still, we have seen numerous misleading public campaigns attempting to disparage this World Cup and what it means for the people of our region. When it comes to labor rights, for one, Qatar has actually welcomed critics and worked with global experts, including the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO), to implement and enforce sweeping reforms at lightning speed. Several misleading campaigns have included dangerous misreporting on worker statistics in Qatar – including figures that the ILO and others have refuted – but we have nevertheless pushed on with our reform program. Conditions for millions of workers in Qatar have improved, new standards have been set for the region, and other regional countries are following suit. The ILO and other international observers have recognized the success of our reforms, and all parties acknowledge that there is more to do, just as there is in every country round the world.

Qatar is also an enormously welcoming country – those who have visited our region will understand the hospitality that the Arab world offers. Our culture is rooted in values that treat all guests with the utmost generosity and respect, and every year we welcome millions of visitors from around the world.

However, for some commentators, hosting the World Cup in Qatar will never be accepted. Preconceived and often prejudiced views about our region have flourished, and there has been little room for nuanced discussion about the complex themes that now dominate in the media. Qatar is not opposed to scrutiny – in fact we have embraced it – but too often platforms have been used to present one-sided, factually inaccurate arguments that go beyond what some other countries awarded major events have faced, despite each having their own unique set of challenges to overcome.

Sport is meant to remind us of our similarities and bring people together, rather than highlight our differences and drive the world further apart. We have seen the success that soccer has had in the past: Ivory Coast’s successful qualification for the 2006 World Cup brought the nation together in such celebration that it even helped end a civil war by reminding everyone of their love for soccer. And as our world today experiences challenges like never before, with people and cultures more polarized than ever, our aim in Qatar is for this tournament to show that people of different nationalities, religions and backgrounds in fact have more in common than they think.

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There is genuine enthusiasm for the Qatar World Cup – 97% of tickets for the tournament have been sold, with US sales among the highest of any country. We are excited to welcome every fan from around the world to come to Qatar and experience all our country and culture has to offer. This World Cup promises to be a once in a lifetime celebration of the beautiful game of soccer, here in the beautiful country of Qatar. This tournament is one for the whole world – and its success will be celebrated as a success for all.