(MENAFN- Gulf Times)
Fans who attend this year's FIFA World Cup in Qatar will discover a welcoming and hospitable country according to Englishman Steve Mackie, who has lived in Doha for 13 years.
The business start-up mentor, podcaster and street soccer enthusiast spoke to qatar2022.qa about Qatar's massive development over the past decade, the country's leading tourist attractions and what he thinks of England's chances heading into this year's tournament, which will be held in eight state-of-the-art stadiums from November 21 to December 18.
The 55-year-old, who has a wife and four children, believes football's showpiece international event will forge new and lasting friendships for those who attend.
Mackie recalled that his Qatar journey began when he launched a website called 'Business Start Up Qatar'. 'And from there, we've never looked back. I also host 'In the Game' – which was one of the country's first podcasts. Here in Qatar, there are some amazing sportspeople and we shine a light on these athletes by telling their stories. I also work as the operations director for Qatar Street Soccer, which runs football matches in small areas to give players a high-cardio workout. It was really popular before the pandemic – sometimes we would play until 4am.'
Qatar's transformation over the past 13 years has been incredible, according to Mackie. 'It's been incredible. The country was incredible to begin with – but it's always improving, always trying to get to the next level. I'll never forget the day Qatar was named as the host for the 2022 World Cup – the Corniche was gridlocked; you would have thought Qatar had won the World Cup. It was amazing to see what it meant to Qataris. I believe it is well deserved; the Middle East deserves to host this tournament. It's been a wonderful journey to experience.'
Asked for his favourite three things to do in Qatar, Mackie said to name just three is very difficult. 'Souq Waqif is one of my favourite places. It is something you have to experience when you come here. I also love Msheireb and the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum. I love going back there as there is always something I have missed. What they have done there is incredible.'
About the advice he would give to England fans travelling to Qatar for the FIFA World Cup, Mackie said: 'The first thing to do is offer your hand in friendship because everybody here will take that hand. That's the type of place Qatar is. The other thing to do is learn about the culture. It is wonderful and hospitable here. As long as you are polite and courteous, and get to know the country and people, you will enjoy your experience here.'
England's group stage matches will be played at Khalifa International, Al Bayt and Ahmad Bin Ali. Mackie has been to Al Bayt before and describes it as incredible. 'It seems to be everyone's favourite stadium. What they are doing there from a legacy point of view is amazing – there is a surrounding park and other facilities, all for the local community. For England to be playing there will be brilliant. I've also been to Ahmad Bin Ali and that was a magical experience. Khalifa is probably my favourite venue – when you walk into the stadium, it's delightful. There's so much history behind it.'
Lastly, about England's chances to lift the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Mackie said: 'England fans can be critical of our national team. Sometimes, we haven't reached people's expectations, so there has been frustration in the past. Gareth Southgate has got us together and is playing a different style of football. In 2018, we were in touching distance of the final and we lost the Euro 2020 final on penalties. I hope the players can gel effectively. I think we've got a chance but I'm at an age now where I don't want to get too confident.'
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