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Infantino says World Cup will be health ‘benchmark’ for global sporting events

Doha (AFP) – FIFA president Gianni Infantino said Thursday this year’s World Cup finals in Qatar will become a “benchmark” for holding future global sporting events during a health crisis.

The Qatari organisers of the 32 nation event that starts November 21 and runs till December 18 said they are “cautiously optimistic” it will be the first mass gathering of sports fans for a global sports event since the coronavirus pandemic erupted two years ago.

Spectators have largely been forbidden from attending last year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics — save for a few events outside the Japanese capital — and the ongoing Winter Olympics in China.

FIFA announced this week that requests have been made for 17 million tickets for the first World Cup in the Arab region and sought to reassure fans about safety measures during an online health conference organised by the Qatar authorities. 

Football has a duty “to make sure this not only the best World Cup ever but also the healthiest World Cup ever,” Infantino said in a recorded statement for the event.

He added that the health and security standards will be “a benchmark for future sporting events of this scale.”

The same message was given by World Health Organisation director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who highlighted the “unique challenges” faced by organisers because of the pandemic.

WHO has been working with the Qatar government on health security, infectious diseases, food safety, co-ordination and communication during the World Cup.

“The lessons learned from Qatar’s experience in this World Cup will help us all in designing health and safety measures for other large scale events,” Tedros added.

Neither FIFA nor the Qatar organisers, who have spent billions of dollars preparing for the event, have said what would happen if a new coronavirus wave threatens the event.

But Hassan Al Thawadi, director general of the government’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said: “While the pandemic is still very much here with us, we can now see real light at the end of the tunnel.

“In our eyes, the pandemic has given Qatar 2022 a new significance. Our World Cup may well be the first time that the world can properly come together to celebrate its passion for football.

“We are cautiously optimistic that we may be the country that hosts the first true gathering of global fans since the start of the crisis,” added Thawadi.

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