Infantino praises Qatar for defying pandemic with WC preparation

Doha (AFP) –


FIFA president Gianni Infantino on Wednesday praised Qatar for pushing ahead with 2022 World Cup preparations despite the coronavirus pandemic, while the rest of the world "stood still".

On a visit to Doha, during which he got into football kit to play a seven-a-side-match at the striking tent-style Al Bayt stadium, Infantino said he was "very pleased" with Qatar's progress ahead of the tournament.

"We have seen the plans, but when you see the reality, it is even more impressive," he said in a statement which added that all eight venues will be completed "well in advance" of the event.

"Qatar has been able to continue to advance during the last six months while the world stood still -- from infrastructure preparations to important developments such as the recent labour reforms announced by the government," he said.

Qatar has made a series of reforms to its employment regulations since being selected to host the 2022 World Cup, which has required a vast programme of construction dependent on foreign workers.

However, rights campaigners say that widespread abuses persist.

The Gulf state will kick off the World Cup at the Al Bayt Stadium, which takes its shape from the traditional tents used by nomadic peoples in the Gulf region.

The timings of the competition, due to be held in November and December of 2022, remains unchanged by the coronavirus pandemic which has already forced the postponement of the European football championships and the Tokyo Olympics.

Qatar has had one of the highest per capita coronavirus infection rates in the world although infection rates have now fallen sharply.

Work continued at 2022 sites this year -- even as Doha imposed wide-ranging closures including on shops, restaurants, and mosques -- but was slowed to allow virus containment measures including screening and social distancing to be observed.