DOHA, Qatar – The head of the FIFA inspection team said Thursday that Qatar faces logistical challenges in attempting to host the 2022 World Cup, raising doubts about the nation's proposal.
Chile Football Federation president Harold Mayne-Nicholls didn't specify what the problems were but said a World Cup needs to accommodate hundreds of thousands of people. He said Qatar currently does not have the necessary accommodations and transport links, though he acknowledged the organizers "have assured us they will change this."
"From an organizational point of view, Qatar has the potential to host an international event like a FIFA World Cup," Mayne-Nicholls said.
"But it would pose a number of logistical challenges," he said. "So far, we have had only one tournament of a similar concept with a minimum of traveling distance, and that was the first tournament staged in 1930 in Uruguay. That has easily worked out well 80 years ago, but the scope of the event, as we all know, has changed dramatically."
Former French star Zinedine Zidane made a surprise appearance and said he supported bid because it would be good for the Middle East.
Qatar is the final stop for the six-member team on a tour of nine countries, including the U.S., bidding to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cups. FIFA's 24-member executive committee will vote Dec. 2.
The 2018 tournament is expected to be played in Europe, with England, Russia, Spain-Portugal and Belgium-Netherlands competing. The U.S. is the favorite for 2022 and is competing with Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea.
Most analysts consider the tiny Middle East nation of 1.6 million a longshot. Qatar faces concerns about heat that can reach 122 degrees, fears its conservative values will diminish the party atmosphere and questions over whether there is enough for visitors to do during a 30-day tournament.
Mayne-Nicholls never mentioned heat and alcohol, and his focus on the stadium plans came as surprise since organizers saw that as a strength. Calling their bid a "compact World Cup," organizers have played up the fact that the stadiums can be reached within an hour of each other and that fans would be whisked to air-conditioned venues in a flashy, new metro system. Fans, they said, could see as many as three matches in one day.
Mayne-Nicholls did praise several other bids. He said Australia was prepared to host the World Cup and that he was confident that the U.S. could fulfill all the standards set by FIFA.
He also praised Japan's bid as a "very balanced product" which "mixes football traditions with modern stadiums, new technology and environmental projects integrated with the world."
Qatar bid committee chief executive Hassan al-Thawadi acknowledged the proposal faces challenges. He vowed to find solutions to problems identified by inspectors and said his group will persevere with what he called a "new and innovative concept."
"As with is normal with new ideas, there will be concerns about implementing them," al-Thawadi said. "We've seen the concerns and understand the concerns. There will be issues in terms of transportation of fans. We have looked at scheduling to resolve these issues. Every concern that may come from this new concept has been addressed by us, has been looked at us in great detail."
FIFA's visit ended with a tour of the designs for the 12 stadiums that Qatar is planning to build or upgrade. The designs includes one that would be built to look like an Arab fort and another that pulsates and looks like a sea urchin.
The stadiums will cost $4 billion and include a state-of-the-art cooling system that ensures temperatures on the field and in the stands remains below 81. All but one of the stadiums will have modular components allowing organizers to dismantle them afterward and donate some 170,000 seats to soccer programs in developing countries.
"The whole thing will be taken out and shared with the world," said bid official Fatma Fakhro, as she showed reporters the 44,950-seat Doha Port stadium, which will be completely removed after the tournament.
Organizers played up Qatar would be making history because the World Cup has never been held in the Middle East . They said Qatar, which has the second-highest per capita income in the world, would back up its ambitious plans with plenty of money.
Qatar plans to spend $42.9 billion on infrastructure to be completed by the World Cup, including a high-speed rail network with trains that can reach 217 mph; a 50 million-passenger airport; and a city of 200,000 that would be home to some of the training facilities, accommodations and a stadium.