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All photos courtesy of SCDL

Qatar’s first World Cup stadium opened with a bang yesterday, wowing 40,000+ spectators with fireworks, cultural performances and a 20C pitch.

The venue’s launch comes five years before Qatar hosts the tournament and is seen by many as a huge step forward in 2022 preparations.

Last night’s match also saw Al Sadd clinch the Emir Cup after defeating Al Rayyan 2-1.

QNA

Qatar’s Emir at Khalifa International Stadium

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim awarded the winning team its trophy. And he also cut the ribbon to mark the inauguration of the stadium.

According to QNA, he “announced in the name of every Qatari and Arab citizen” that the venue is ready to host the 2022 World Cup.

Racing toward 2022

The game was also attended by several other sporting officials. These include FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa.

FIFA will have the final say over whether the stadiums Qatar prepares to meet World Cup specifications.

SCDL

Al Bayt stadium progress, May 2017

It still has not decided on the number of venues Qatar needs to host the tournament. But it is expected to be around eight.

Organizers have set a 2020 deadline for all of the under-construction stadiums, but Khalifa International opened six months late.

Meanwhile, designs for three of the upcoming venues have yet to be released.

Amid pressure to complete all venues on time, Qatar also continues to be dogged by rights abuse concerns at stadium sites.

Innovative stadium

But the stress of the balancing act was put aside for at least one night during Khalifa Stadium’s reopening.

The venue has been lauded for its cooling technology, sleek design and upcoming sports museum.

SCDL

Sensory room at Khalifa International Stadium

It even has a “sensory room” for those who who want to watch matches without getting anxious or overstimulated.

In a statement about Khalifa International’s launch, Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SCDL), said:

“The completion of our first stadium more than five years before the Qatar World Cup begins is an important milestone that reflects our determination to deliver a tournament the entire Arab world is proud to be a part of.

As we promised in our bid, our innovative stadiums offer an unrivaled experience to fans and players alike. I’m proud we can show these off to the world and welcome fans with the hospitality this World Cup will be remembered for.”

Thoughts?

eDmonD uchiha/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

As Qatar celebrates the opening of its first World Cup stadium today, rights group Amnesty International is warning officials to proceed with caution.

The group had uncovered human rights violations by contractors involved in Khalifa International Stadium renovations last year.

At the time, it stated that more than 100 expats had their passports confiscated and salary payments delayed.

Construction workers at the Khalifa Stadium

Peter Kovessy / Doha News

Khalifa Stadium renovations for illustrative purposes only.

A year later, an independent audit commissioned by World Cup organizers found many contractors are continuing to work their staff too hard.

For its part, tournament organizers said at the time that “while the findings clearly state there are challenges, they also demonstrate our continued commitment to this process. We will do everything necessary to ensure the issues identified are dealt with promptly.”

‘Urgent rethink’ needed

But in a statement yesterday, Amnesty urged more drastic action, raising the issue of Qatar’s restrictive labor laws.

James Lynch, deputy director of Amnesty’s Global Issues program, said:

“Migrant workers at Khalifa International Stadium have already suffered the consequences of Qatar and FIFA’s failure to genuinely address the dangers of Qatar’s sponsorship system.

An urgent rethink is needed to prevent labour abuse becoming the legacy of the 2022 World Cup.”

Currently, about 10,000 people are working on World Cup projects in Qatar. That number is expected to surge to a peak of 36,000 workers by next year.

Gadget Dan/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Notably, this is just a fraction of Qatar’s labor force, and many of these employees have far more favorable working and living conditions than their peers who work for smaller companies.

However, authorities are under pressure to ensure the rights of all workers in the run-up to 2022.

Deaths

One litmus test for proper working and living conditions has been the fatality rate of World Cup employees.

So far, two people have died while working on stadium sites, including a British man who fell to his death at Khalifa Stadium.

However, earlier this month an Indian carpenter died of a heart attack he suffered shortly after leaving the stadium site, Reuters reports.

MOI/Facebook

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

He is at least the fourth World Cup employee to have died of cardiac arrest in the past year and a half, the newswire states.

More should be done to find out whether these deaths are related to working conditions, rights groups have argued.

Speaking to Reuters yesterday, Gulf labor researcher Mustafa Qadri said:

“Workers dying suddenly from heart attacks is something we hear about often, the causes are not always clear.

But we’re moving now into the hottest time of the year when the risk of fatality increases. When a worker dies, Qatar needs to get to the bottom of what happened. People’s lives are in danger.”

Thoughts?

Reem Saad / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Up to 1.3 million football fans are expected to turn out for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a senior official has said.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Nasser Al Khater, assistant secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SCDL), called the figure “a ceiling cap.”

It is higher than the 1 million fan estimate he previously mentioned in 2015.

SCDL

New Khalifa International Stadium

But this could be because World Cup organizers have since shifted the tournament to Qatar’s cooler winter months.

According to AFP, Al Khater added that for the first time, the World Cup will see more fans coming from the Middle East and Asia, as opposed to Europe and South America.

“I think first of all, football is changing, but I think also because of the geographical location of Qatar, I think we are going to see the majority of fans coming from the region, mainly Saudi Arabia,” as well as India and Russia, he said.

The official was speaking during a press tour of the renovated Khalifa International Stadium.

SCDL

New Khalifa International Stadium

The venue is the first in Qatar to become World Cup ready, and officially opens to the public today.

Fan zone safety

Tonight’s match between Al Said and Al Rayyan kicks off at 7pm. But the fan zone opens at 3:30pm and will include cultural performances and a food festival.

The opening ceremony of the Emir Cup final will begin at 6pm.

Ahead of the game, the Ministry of Interior has tweeted several pieces of advice for spectators, including:

  • Arrive early and be sure to head to the right gates when you’re ready to be seated;
  • Do not bring prohibited items such as fireworks, sharp tools, and glass, metal or water bottles; and
  • Do not carry banners with offensive language or wear clothing with photos or phrases “that undermine public modesty.”

First of its kind

Khalifa International Stadium was originally build in 1976 and was renovated 30 years later to host the Asian Games.

All photos courtesy of SCDL

It has undergone a second overhaul to meet FIFA’s standards for the World Cup.

New features include expanded capacity to hold up to 40,000 fans; the installation of cooling technology (which will come in handy this sweltering weekend); and the construction of a sports museum, among other things.

Are you going to the game tonight? Thoughts?