With less than a year to go for the FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar on Tuesday threw open the doors of the Al Bayt Stadium on the occasion of the Arab Cup opener between the host nation and Bahrain. It is now the sixth World Cup venue to be inaugurated after Khalifa International, Al Janoub, Education City, Ahmad Bin Ali and Al Thumama.
The alluring stadium, which will play host to the opening Qatar 2022 game as well, pays homage to Middle Eastern hospitality, having been modelled on the bayt al sha’ar – traditional nomadic tents in the Gulf region. The venue’s lightweight canopies aid the artificial cooling technology, in keeping with the idea of the conventional Arabic tents to ward off the desert heat.
While His Highness the Emir of the State of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani announced the tournament open, FIFA president Gianni Infantino, too, could be seen enjoying the light and sound show during a grandiose opening ceremony, complete with 3D hologram projections and live and virtual performances by several celebrities including the legendary Lebanese singer, Fairuz.
“Let’s celebrate football and unite the world together,” said Infantino ahead of the match, in which the reigning Asian champion Qatar survived a last-minute scare to fend off the visitor 1-0, courtesy a screamer from Abdulaziz Hatem in the 69th minute.
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Located in the northern city of Al Khor, 46km north of Doha, the Al Bayt Stadium has 60,000 seats. It is going to be the second busiest venue during the quadrennial showpiece next year, hosting nine matches up to the semifinals.
The capacity of the arena, delivered by the Aspire Zone Foundation, a stakeholder with the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, will almost be halved post the quadrennial showpiece to accommodate a five-star hotel, shopping centre, food court, gym and multipurpose hall. It will also incorporate a branch of a leading sports medicine facility within its premises.
Two venues – Stadium 974 and Lusail Stadium – are yet to be officially unveiled.
(The writer is in Qatar on an invitation by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy)