Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup. America (and most of the rest of the world) was angry and confused. How could a nation the size of Connecticut beat the United States, Australia, Japan, and Korea Republic? They must have cheated.
But look closer and you’ll realize that it might not be such a shock. You’ll see that Qatar, through a program called Football Dreams, has built a strong presence in many developing nations, some of which also have representation on FIFA’s executive committee that voted on the hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments.
Indeed, despite relative obscurity in the popular consciousness of the Western world, Qatar has quietly been making a name for itself in international soccer circles. The country’s al-Thani ruling family has long showed an interest in international athletics, and in the past few years has invested a portion of its immense wealth in a quest to make Qatar competitive in a range of Olympic sports, including soccer.
As part of that vision, in 2004 the royal family funded the Aspire Academy project to train Qatari athletes with the best technology and resources that money could buy. Shortly after, as an offshoot of the academy’s soccer program, the Aspire Football Dreams program was launched to uncover youth soccer talent hidden in the farthest-flung villages and outposts in the world.
And those stadiums sure are nice.