Five years to Qatar 2022 - five issues to be resolved before the World Cup
The first World Cup in the Middle East kicks off in exactly five years' time when Qatar will host the opening match of the 2022 World Cup on Nov. 21.
But while plenty of countries have struggled with the weight of hosting the world's biggest football spectacle, before eventually being ready, Qatar's issues run deep. Here are five key things that still need to be resolved before the big kick-off.
Human rights for workers
Qatar has been heavily criticised for the treatment of around 1.6 million migrant workers constructing stadiums and World Cup infrastructure projects. Organisers recently announced major changes to their employment and living conditions -- banning companies with stadium contracts from using the "kafala" system and forcing them to improve conditions for their staff -- but how these are enforced could have a major impact on the tournament.
If there is no real change on the ground and the negative publicity continues, many football fans may think twice about travelling to the country and it may also put off potential sponsors. For Qatar to organise a successful World Cup, it will have to get more than just taking care of fans and players right.
Domestic scheduling problems
For the first time in its history, the World Cup is taking place in winter and right in the middle of the domestic season for the majority of countries participating, which means clubs will lose their top players at a crucial time.
The Premier League in particular faces a major rescheduling problem given that, unlike other major European leagues, it does not have a winter break and games over the festive period are not only financially lucrative but a cherished part of British football culture. A winter break could be brought in, but World Cup stars will still return to club football tired for the second half of the season after a maximum of a month away.
Fans around the world are yet to hear how their leading domestic leagues will accommodate Qatar 2022 but expect earlier starts or later finishes to the 2022-23 season.
Corruption looms large
From the moment Qatar was awarded the World Cup it has been blighted by allegations of corruption and these have still not gone away. The wide-ranging investigations by Swiss and American authorities into FIFA include the 2010 vote in which the Gulf state secured the tournament.
There is also the U.S bribery trial taking place over the awarding of lucrative World Cup broadcasting rights. And Alejandro Burzaco, a key witness, testified that former FIFA Executive Committee member Julio Grondona claimed that he was owed millions of dollars in return for backing Qatar.
With more trials expected in both the U.S. and Switzerland and potentially, more damaging revelations, the credibility of the 2022 tournament could be at risk and perhaps, Qatar's chances of staging it.
Political crisis in the Gulf
Qatar finds itself as an outcast in its own neighbourhood after Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates accused it of supporting terrorism, cutting diplomatic ties and imposing an air, sea and land blockade.
This could have serious implications for the 2022 tournament, both in terms of importing materials for World Cup construction sites, to ensuring that fans are able to travel safely and cheaply.
Earlier this week, Hassan Al-Thawadi, secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is overseeing the country's World Cup preparations, urged the four boycotting nations to allow their nationals to attend the tournament. With both sides locked in a heated, diplomatic tussle, Qatar in particular will be hoping to resolve matters well before the first ball is kicked.
It may seem a somewhat insignificant issue, compared to corruption and political problems, but fans not being able to drink could have major implications for the World Cup. After Qatar organisers announced last year that alcohol would be banned in public places and stadiums, negotiations are set to begin with FIFA on trying to find a way around this.
The first ever dry tournament could seriously influence the decision of fans who might consider travelling, particularly those from Europe and South and Central America, where football and beer have traditionally gone hand-in-hand.
FIFA will also be concerned over how its corporate guests and sponsors might react, particularly beer company Budweiser, and the wider impact a drinking ban would have on the overall World Cup experience.
Vivek Chaudhary covers FIFA and the financial side of the game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @viveksport