Qatar’s top World Cup organiser has hit back at Louis van Gaal for criticising the decision to hold the event in the Gulf state, saying the Netherlands coach has failed to understand the Arab world’s passion for football.
Van Gaal said this week that it was “ridiculous” for the World Cup to be held in Qatar and that FIFA had only been motivated by money.
In a rare outburst, Hassan al-Thawadi, chief executive of the World Cup Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, tore into van Gaal and insisted Qatar had no regrets over its efforts to stage the World Cup that kicks off on November 21.
“For a person who has had many many years (as a coach) and who understands the power of football, it is ridiculous that he could actually make such a bland statement,” Thawadi said in comments from an interview released by Bein Sports TV late Thursday.
“I am sure that he hasn’t spent a lot of time understanding what football means, not only to Qatar but to the Arab world.”
Thawadi said Qatar had shown at the FIFA Arab Cup in November and December, where many stadiums were packed, that it could host major events.
Thousands of journalists and officials will be in the state on April 1 for the World Cup draw and to see the World Cup stadiums that Qatar has spent billions of dollars to build.
It has also held the world athletics championships, a Formula One race and other top events. Its human rights record has been questioned, but Qatar says much of the criticism is unfair.
“The passion of the people of the Arab world, what football means to us, I think it is not a ridiculous notion that an Arab nation hosts the World Cup,” Thawadi said.
“It is the time for the Arab world and the Middle East to take a stand within the global football community and to be recognised as such.”
Thawadi said Arab fervour for football was “unparalleled”.
“Our ability to host major events as a state is unparalleled,” he added, stating that it had been recognised by the Netherlands and other major sports nations.
“They recognise our ability and our readiness,” he added.
“Plain and simple, the Arab world deserves its right to be in the sunshine, in the spotlight. We have worked very hard to get to this stage and I don’t think we will make any apologies for it.”
Thawadi said that fans in the Qatar would be “very welcoming to the outside world”.
Van Gaal hit out at FIFA for saying that the World Cup was being played in Qatar to develop football there.
“But it doesn’t matter – it’s about money, commercial interests. That’s the main motive of FIFA,” he said at a press conference.
Qatar has also faced questions about its record on the treatment of migrant workers and gay rights.
Homosexuality is banned in Qatar and England coach Gareth Southgate said this week it would be “horrible” if gay fans did not go to the event because they felt threatened.
England captain Harry Kane said the team would try to “shine a light” on issues in Qatar.
Organisers have not yet responded to their comments.