By: Tim Cahill
Doha, 13 December 2020 - Two years from now, football will become the major topic of conversation in almost every corner of the world. Over the course of 64 games, the world’s best players will compete for the honour of being crowned as world champions. Fans from all over the globe will travel to Qatar to participate in a celebration of football, full of hope and optimism that they will witness history being created for their country.
During my playing career, I was lucky enough to represent Australia at four World Cups. Each tournament was special in its own way, but I’ll never forget my first World Cup goal in 2006 against Japan. It was an extremely hot day and the stadium was packed with Aussie fans. I came on as a sub and following a long throw-in, the ball pinballed around before falling at my feet. I struck it through a melee of legs and thankfully it hit the back of the net. I didn't know at the time that it was Australia’s first goal at a World Cup, but I vividly remember running over to the corner flag to celebrate. It wasn’t the greatest goal I ever scored but it’s a moment I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.
For players and fans alike, the World Cup creates these special memories. It brings people from all over this planet together to celebrate their love of the beautiful game and offers a unique opportunity to explore a new country and learn about its history, culture and traditions. It’s a truly global, shared experience.
The FIFA World Cup 2022 will be the first major tournament hosted in the Middle East, presenting Qatar with a chance to do something special both on and off the pitch while introducing the wider region and the warmth of its people to the rest of the world.
The tournament in 2022 will be an opportunity to bring the world closer together following a really difficult time. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Qatar since retirement and have been hugely impressed by the level of preparation taking place to make sure everything's ready for 2022. It’s a monumental task to deliver a major event like this during a global pandemic, but I’ve no doubt that the tournament will not only be a special moment for Qatar, but for the entire world.
Sport can be a hugely powerful vehicle for change and improving people’s lives. I’ve seen first-hand the impact that hosting a major sporting event can have on a city and country. The 2000 Olympics was hosted in my home city of Sydney and transformed the place, for the better, in many ways. It also put the country in a position to host other world-class events like the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Both events were amazing for Australia, which is a country with a proud sporting tradition.
On the pitch, Qatar has committed to delivering a World Cup with sustainability at its heart –something which is embedded into everything, from the stadiums to public transport. The longest distance between venues will be just 75km, so fans may have the chance to attend multiple games in one day, a brand-new experience in the recent history of the World Cup. For a football fanatic like me, I find this hugely exciting.
Qatar is currently hosting the AFC Champions League East Zone matches and will also host the final of the competition on 19 December. It’s exciting to see my old club Shanghai Shenhua compete with other top clubs from across the continent, including some from Australia. It's definitely going to be an eye-opener for the players who will be some of the first to experience playing in the new stadiums built for the World Cup. As a player, it's exciting to play on the best pitches in some of the best stadiums, so I’m sure it will be a great experience for those involved and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the tournament unfolds.
For me personally, the initiatives being put in place off the pitch as part of Qatar 2022 are just as important as the work to deliver the tournament on it. Initiatives that educate people and drive social change have the potential to deliver positive outcomes long after the final whistle is blown at Lusail Stadium on 18 December 2022.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to work with Generation Amazing, a human and social legacy programme that uses football-for-development initiatives that teach social and life skills, educating people on important issues such as sustainability, healthy living and inclusivity. Since its launch, the programme has positively impacted more than 500,000 people by tackling prevalent social issues in countries such as Oman, Nepal, Jordan, India and Haiti, among others. By 2022, Generation Amazing is hoping to have reached one million young people around the world. It’s an exciting project and something I’m proud to be a part of.
One of the most special things about sport is how it inspires people. It can leave a legacy that transcends sport itself. I remember when I was a boy watching Italia 90 and being moved by Toto Schillaci, Italy’s super-sub and talisman. He would come off the bench and just bang in goals from everywhere. The excitement and aura that he carried was so special. He was so lively on the pitch and as a goal-scoring midfielder that liked to get forward into the box, he was an inspiration for me. Those amazing moments made me dream about replicating them one day for my country.
Qatar 2022 has the potential to set a new precedent for major sporting tournaments, both on and off the pitch, and leave behind a legacy long after the last ball is kicked. In particular, it will be special for the Qatari kids – and kids from all over the world – to see their national teams compete with modern-day superstars like Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo and Mbappe. It will be something they never forget and will hopefully inspire the next generation to get active, play more football and chase their dreams.