Country number: 123
Territory number: 143
When? October 2014
How? Private car and walking
Who? Work trip
‘We started off being written off, being the unconventional bid. And no-one thought we had a chance to win. On behalf of millions living in the Middle East, thank you FIFA for having such bold vision. We have a date with history which is summer 2022.’
Qatar bid president Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani.
I got to see Qatar from the back seat of my chauffeur driven car on my two hour round trip into work from the capital, Doha, each day. There was a lot of flat desert. It’s an offshoot of the Saudi Arabian peninsula – mucky brown earth in most directions. There were a lot of building sites too – the new stadia for the World Cup, extremely close to each other. It’s not a very big country. it’s hard to imagine the English football fans whooping it up here. I was working in a huge town complex founded by RasGas. The school was built to serve the expat employees and was huge too. the teachers were keen and fun. They taught me to pronounce names like the locals. Qatar (ca-tar – emphasis on the second syllable) and Qatari (cattery). So much for the BBC.
In the evenings I strolled along the corniche, past the vast silhouette of the limestone Islamic Museum and watched the amazing futuristic sky scrapers light up in turn against the dusky bay. The air was still balmy at that time of year – still baking hot during the day. Doha felt very modern and yet alien. There was a small tourist area with a tent and camels and a souk that was much more atmospheric – some little side streets with local cafes and shish. The most fascinating part was the falconry quarter. Whole sections of hooded birds, roles reversed, waiting to be preyed on by human buyers.
There was alcohol to be had in the bigger hotels – on presentation of your passport. But I was happy with the lemon and mint refresher that the locals drink.