THE Khalifa International Stadium has not only been Qatar’s pride and joy but also the heart and soul of the country’s sports tradition ever since it was inaugurated in 1976.
It was around this magnificent amphitheatre that the initial concept of a Sports City was developed and later evolved into the vast expanse of what’s now known as the Aspire Zone, also encompassing the ASPIRE Academy for Sports Excellence, Aspetar, one of the world’s top orthopaedic and sports medicine hospitals, and WADA-approved Qatar Anti-Doping Laboratory.
After its latest and major refurbishment, making it the first venue to be completed for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the Khalifa stadium stands like an imposing edifice with its ultra-modern shape and dual arches, apart from its aesthetically-pleasing canopy.
As the stadium was unveiled for the media on Tuesday, my mind travelled to some of the historic moments I had witnessed on its hallowed turf — legendary footballers, including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, in action, and the breathtaking sight of HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani racing up the ramp on a horseback to light the flame of 2006 Asian Games.
Come Friday, the nearly 50,000-capacity World Cup stadium will be unveiled to the world as the Qatar Football Association (QFA) has announced it as the venue for the season-ending Emir’s Cup final.
It’s indeed a matter of pride for the QFA, Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy and Aspire Zone Foundation that they’ve been able to complete the work in time. It reaffirms Qatar’s commitment and determination to successfully organise the Middle East’s first World Cup in five years’ time.
I don’t think there could’ve been a better occasion than the Emir’s Cup final to mark the stadium’s inauguration. It’s the most prestigious sports fixture in the country and it has been graced for decades by our wise leaders. And there’s no one better qualified than our beloved Emir HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who himself is a keen sports lover, to dedicate this venue to our people.
It’s also quite befitting that Al Rayyan and Al Sadd, two teams with maximum fan following, are fighting it out for glory. Last season’s Qatar Stars League champions Rayyan will be aiming to claim their first silverware this time while Sadd look keen to add one more to the Qatar Cup they won recently. All in all, it should be a gripping final.