Fighting the blockade, World Cup replica hawker Ahmed Khalifa, 28, sells at least one £31 life-size replica copy of the gold Fifa trophy a day alongside tea mugs fashioned in the shape of niqab-clad womenThe Saudis are threatening to excavate a 38-mile long, 220-yards wide canal along the border, cutting off the Qatari peninsula from the mainland.And just to rub sand into the wounds, Riyadh wants to convert part of the border area into a nuclear waste burial site and military base.
It’s not exactly something Qatar is boasting about in its 2022 World Cup PR bumpf.
In a region riven with rivalries, Qatar has fallen out spectacularly with neighbours including Saudi, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt over its alleged ties to terrorism.
In June 2017, its foes started a land, sea and air blockade designed to put the gas-rich land back in its box. Saudi slammed shut Qatar’s only land border and barred state-owned Qatar Airways from its airspace.
For a nation that imported much of its food and goods, it might have been calamitous. Yet little Qatar — it is smaller than Yorkshire and expecting to host 1.5million football fans in 2022 — has fought back.
In the lunar-like landscape 31 miles north of capital Doha is a farming complex where black and white Holstein cows munch fodder in air-conditioned sheds. All 17,000 of them were brought in from Germany, Hungary and the US since the blockade began.
It’s led to bosses at Baladna Farm being hailed as the milk sheikhs.
Its marketing manager Mark Somogyi tells me: “Before the blockade at least 95 per cent of dairy products were from abroad. Today Qatar is practically self- sufficient in fresh milk, as little as three per cent is imported. Nobody foresaw the blockade but the country is coping very well.”
So what of the vast World Cup building preparations under the blockade, which sees most goods now arriving at Hamad Port?
In an exclusive tour, Qatari organising committee officials were keen to show stadium preparations were on schedule.
Seven futuristic arenas are rising out of the desert with one revamped, aircon blasted ground — the Khalifa International — already finished.
For this is the World Cup where money is no object. For brimming with petro dollars, Qatar is the richest nation on Earth. At the Al Wakrah Stadium, nine miles from Doha, the seats are already going in.
Modelled on traditional dhow fishing boats, the 40,000-capacity stadium may host games up to the quarter final stage. The pristine pitch is like a green oasis amid the construction dust where 4,500 migrant workers toil.
Inside what will be a players’ dressing room, Mohammed Emaran, 35, is sealing plasterboard where Gareth Southgate could be giving his team-talk in four years.
The labourer — who earns around £190 a month for a six-day week with free lodging and food — says: “I’m happy with the work and send money home to my family in India.”
Yet two migrant workers have perished during construction work at the £520million arena.
Anil Kumar Pasman, 29, from Nepal, died at Al Wakrah after being hit by a lorry in 2016. And a 23-year Nepalese scaffolder fell to his death on August 14. He is believed to be the first reported fatality at a tournament venue since January 2017, when British construction worker Zac Cox, 40, died helping refurbish the Khalifa International Stadium.
Yet one union has claimed 1,200 people have been killed working on projects for the 2022 tournament, a claim vehemently denied by Qatari officials. Qatar’s World Cup organising body, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, says the Nepali scaffolder’s death is still being investigated.
Project manager Thani Khalifa Al-Zarraa, 35, says of the latest tragedy: “Half an hour after I heard the news I gathered 3,200 workers at the stadium. I told them, ‘You came here to support your family, so whatever health and safety instructions we tell you is for your own good, so that you go back to your families’.
“But in construction you cannot eliminate all risk. Mistakes happen.”
Qatar’s £6billion spend on World Cup infrastructure has eased the financial pain of the blockade for many of the 2.7million population.
Doha is currently a vast building site as new tower blocks rise and a three-line metro system is constructed. More than 500 greenhouses have been built in the desert amid hopes to become self-sufficient in vegetable production by 2020.
Some England fans had planned to stay in Dubai and fly in and out for the games. But direct flights have been canned under the blockade.
The Middle East’s first World Cup will also have a shortfall of hotel rooms. But there are “glamping” sites in the desert while cruise ships moored in the Gulf will also provide accommodation.
Yesterday Qatar was sweltering in the muggy, low 30Cs. But during the tournament — from November 21 to December 18 — it should be a balmy 18 to 24C. Still, a thirst-quenching beer might be out of the question.
It is unclear what the rules on alcohol sales will be in a Muslim land under Sharia Law, where drinking in public is banned. Five-star hotels serve alcohol, but £10 for a bottle of beer is commonplace.
Budweiser told The Sun it will be an official sponsor at the Qatar World Cup — but can’t yet confirm whether it will be allowed to sell its beer at stadiums and fan festivals.
Travelling supporters could also take in a camel race at the Al Shahaniya race track an hour outside Doha.
After Qatar banned child jockeys in 2005, the camels have been ridden by robots in racing silks.
Another unusual sight is the desert scrapyard at Al Wukair, where around 20,000 vehicles, including cars, boats, lorries, buses, bulldozers and cranes, languish in the dust.
2022 organising committee boss Hassan al Thawadi insists: “The blockade hasn’t hindered our preparations. We had to find alternative suppliers . . . and since then projects are still on track.”
In Qatar’s beating heart, Doha’s Souk Waqif market, locals have turned beating the blockade into a matter of national pride.
World Cup replica hawker Ahmed Khalifa, 28, sells at least one £31 life-size replica copy of the gold Fifa trophy a day alongside tea mugs fashioned in the shape of niqab-clad women.
Ahmed says: “Why didn’t they do a blockade before Qatar won the right to stage the World Cup? They’re jealous Qatar has the tournament.”
This article was originally published on the following website: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/7529597/qatar-saudi-blockade-world-cup-on-track/