Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday handed over mantle of the World Cup host to the emir of Qatar whose country will stage the 2022 edition of the tournament.
The ceremony marked a handover from the world’s largest country by landmass to one of the smallest.
Qatar has a population of 2.3 million people and an area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Connecticut.
Qatar’s size, as well as its broiling temperatures and lack of ready stadium infrastructure, have prompted some to question the decision by FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, to make it host.
Qatar’s rulers, however, say they will rise to the challenge, with hours to go until the final between France and Croatia that will bring down the curtain on Russia’s hosting of this year’s tournament.
Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, joined FIFA chief Gianni Infantino and Putin at the Kremlin ceremony.
Putin, at the ceremony, expressed gratitude to footballers and fans alike.
“Russia is handing over the relay baton for hosting the FIFA World Cup to Qatar.
“We are proud of what we did for fans of this wonderful sport.
“We ourselves, the whole country, got an enormous amount of pleasure from interacting with soccer, with the world of soccer and with the fans that came here from all over the globe.
“I’m sure that our friends from Qatar will be able to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup on the same high level.
“We are, of course, ready to share the experience we acquired in hosting the World Cup this year along with our friends,’’ the Russian President said.
At the climax of the ceremony, Putin handed an official World Cup ball to Infantino, who then handed it over to the emir.
The Qatari emir said his country would put in all its efforts to make a success of the 2022 World Cup.
“We hope to overcome all the difficulties,” he said.
He said his country would also try to outdo the success of the Russian team on the pitch, who surpassed expectations by reaching the quarter-finals.
“Though it will be hard to repeat that success as we are a small country, but we are very keen on sport,’’ he said.
In the build-up to this year’s World Cup, some Western politicians called for a boycott over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and allegations of assassinating its opponents overseas, which Moscow denied.
There were also warnings from some campaign groups about the potential for hooligan violence, racist attacks and homophobia.
The tournament, however, proceeded without any significant organisational hitches, violence and evidence of racism or harassment of visitors. (Reuters/NAN)