Asia chief backs Qatar as FIFA visits Australia

SINGAPORE — Qatar will have the backing of Mohammad Bin Hammam for its 2022 World Cup bid, with the Asian Football Confederation president reiterating his support Wednesday even as FIFA's inspection team toured rival Asian bidder Australia.

The declaration by Hammam, a Qatari, meant the gulf nation would get at least one of the 24 votes from FIFA's executive committee that will decide the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups when it meets in December.

"I have one vote among 24 votes and frankly speaking I will vote for Qatar," Hammam said Wednesday. "But if Qatar is not in the running, I will vote for another Asian country."

Under bin Hammam's presidency, Qatar had already been awarded the 2011 Asian Cup unopposed. Australia, which joined the Asian confederation from Oceania after its second-round exit at the 2006 World Cup to eventual champion Italy, is expected to be awarded the 2015 Asian Cup.

Bin Hammam's latest declaration was sure to cause a stir in Australia, where organizers were surprised last month when the AFC chief announced he would vote for a European host for 2018, even though Australia was still in the bidding. Australia subsequently dropped out of the 2018 race to focus on 2022.

Qatar is considered an outsider in the bidding to host 2022 but the head of its bid committee thinks the desert nation has a good chance to be chosen by FIFA.

"Our chances are good," Hassan Al-Thawadi told reporters at an Asian football forum in Singapore. "It will be a close call, but I do believe coming to Qatar and the Middle East in 2022 will be a new frontier for FIFA."

Qatar is bidding against the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Australia. It is aiming to become the first Middle Eastern country to host football's biggest tournament, but faces several hurdles, including its scorching summer heat and restrictive alcohol and dress policies. Australia has never hosted the World Cup, but has hosted the Olympics twice <emdash /> at Melbourne in 1956 and Sydney in 2000 <emdash /> and the World Cups of rugby and cricket.

Al-Thawadi said Qatar is developing "second-generation cooling technology" which will keep stadiums, training facilities and fan areas at about 27 Celsius (81 degrees), far cooler than the 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees) that Qatar averages in June, July and August. Qatar also plans to allow alcohol consumption in fan zones and bathing suits to be worn at hotel pools.

"I don't see it as a cultural clash," Al-Thawadi said. "We accept other people's cultures."

Qatar plans to invest $4 billion to build 12 stadiums which would all be within an hour of each other, allowing teams and fans to cut down on travel time and cost. It will host the 2011 Asian Cup and will unveil a new $5 billion international airport next year that will be able to accommodate 50 million passengers a year.

Qatar, which has large reserves of oil and gas, has one of the world's highest gross domestic product per capita at $81,692, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Hammam warned that China's bid to host the 2026 World Cup would be unlikely to succeed if an Asian country were chosen for the 2022 tournament, as the event rotates between continents.

"If any of these countries succeed, there will be no chance for Asia to host in 2026," Hammam said. "So the ambition of China has to go a few years after."

A FIFA delegation is ending a three-day visit to Australia on Wednesday. It has been inspecting some of the stadiums and other facilities for the 2022 bid. At the end of the inspection tour, the delegation will submit a report to assist FIFA's 24 executive members select a host for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, which will be announced by FIFA on Dec. 2 in Zurich.

The U.S. is competing for both the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, though it appears likely one of four European bids <emdash /> England, Russia, and the joint bids of Spain-Portugal and Netherlands-Belgium <emdash /> will be chosen for the earlier of those two.

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