By Paul Augustine Kpaka, former Sierra Leone International

As part of their official state visit to Qatar, President Bio, First Lady Madam Fatima Bio, Foreign Affairs Minister Professor David Francis and other government officials on Sunday, June 19, 2022, were given a guided tour of the Lusail Stadium in Doha, Qatar. 

The 80,000-seat arena, a state-of-the-art centrepiece of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, will embody the tiny nation’s grand ambition and its passion for sharing Arab culture with the world. 

The Stadium will host nine matches, including the final, with billions around the globe keenly watching on. Work commenced at the venue in 2017 before completion early this year. 

It took an estimated 10,000 primarily migrant workers to construct the entire venue. At maximum capacity, the magnificent facility is capable of hosting up to 100,000 people, including 15,000 operational staff, 3,200 journalists, members of the written press, digital media and its infrastructure, photographers, and security personnel. 

According to the stadium guide, Lusail Stadium will be transformed into a multi-purpose community space at the end of the FIFA World Cup tournament, including shops, schools, cafes, sporting facilities and health clinics. 

As part of the conversion, most of the stadium’s 80,000 seats and other materials will be removed and possibly donated to sporting projects. The idea is to take the Qatar 2022 legacy and a bit of FIFA World Cup history to different locations around the globe. 

Towards the end of their guided tour, the president inquired about Stadium 974. Located on the shores of the Gulf, across the water from Doha’s dazzling West Bay skyline, Stadium 974 is one of the venues that will host matches at the upcoming World Cup. 974 is the international dialling code for the host nation Qatar, and 974 is the exact number of shipping containers used in its construction.

The 40,000-seater venue has a distinctive design in that it will be the first fully demountable tournament venue in FIFA World Cup history. Upon hearing this, the First Lady, in a subtle, deft and diplomatic manner, inquired about the possibility of Sierra Leone being one of the beneficiaries of the demountable materials. Her question elicited immediate laughter among both the Sierra Leone and Qatar delegations present. 

It can be recalled that the president has come under constant scrutiny and criticism for his many international travels and their huge cost to the state. His critics claim the president travelling at such a frequent pace puts a lot of strain on the country’s Consolidated Revenue Fund-CRF, monies that could instead be spent on other much-needed social services like health care. 

The president and his defenders have repeatedly stated that his many travels are for the purpose of “rebranding” the country’s negative image in an effort to make the country much more attractive for Foreign Direct Investment – FDI, through bilateral and multilateral engagements with other nations, international organisations and donor partners. 

If this kind of “football diplomacy” yields the much-needed investment in football infrastructure, which everyone agrees is desperately lacking, then it would be taxpayers’ money well spent. The end, in this case, will clearly justify the means.

Connect with us @football_sierra, on Facebook/ Instagram Football Sierra Leone, FSLNews – Football Feature News African.

The First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr Fatima Maada Bio, accompanied her husband, President Maada Bio, on an official conducted tour of the facility of the Lusail Stadium in the Arab Peninsular country of Qatar on Sunday, June 19 2022.

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