SINGAPORE - Qatar's bid to host the 2022 World Cup received a huge boost on Wednesday when Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Mohamed Bin Hammam threw his weight behind his country's campaign.
The support of Bin Hammam, also a FIFA Executive Committee member, was warmly welcomed by the tiny Gulf emirate, whose campaign to bring the world's biggest football tournament to the Middle East for the first time was initially considered an outside bet.
"I am grateful for the support shown by (Bin Hammam)," Qatari bid CEO Hassan Al-Thawadi told Reuters on the sidelines of the Soccerex Asian forum in Singapore.
"He has always understood the benefits that a World Cup will bring to Qatar and the Middle East, and he has been pioneering in his vision.
"A World Cup in Qatar will be an historic opportunity for FIFA, for the teams, officials, fans and the people of the Arab world, helping bridging cultures between the East and the West and above all changing the perception of the region."
If, as widely expected, the World Cup goes to Europe in 2018, Qatar will be competing with United States as well as AFC heavy hitters South Korea, Japan and Australia for the right to host the 2022 tournament.
Al-Thawadi said that Qatar, whose team have never qualified or competed at the World Cup, has had to overcome doubts about the seriousness of their bid.
"At the start people were sceptical about our bid, today we have got followers.
"That was our biggest obstacle, that people did not know about Qatar, they always doubted the seriousness of the bid but as time moved along, as people started seeing us more and more, the reality has moved on."
Speaking earlier at Soccerex, a football business and networking event, Bin Hammam revealed to reporters he would back his home country in the FIFA vote.
"I have one vote... and frankly speaking I will vote for Qatar, but if Qatar is not in the running I will vote for another Asian country," Bin Hammam said.
The winning bid, along with the host of the 2018 tournament, will be announced by FIFA in Zurich on December 2, something Bin Hammam said he did not initially agree with.
"I was against deciding two World Cup bid decisions in the same room on the same day, but most of my colleagues were with that option so I have to respect their experience and wisdom and most of them are more experienced than me," he added.
If successful, Qatar would become Asia's second World Cup host after South Korea and Japan co-hosted the 2002 tournament.comments