The night before the announcement, Hassan al-Thawadi sat in his car, overcome with emotion. As his driver whisked him away from Fifa’s extraordinary, mostly underground headquarters on a wooded hill in Zurich, he tried to take stock of what was probably the most consequential day of his career so far.
A year earlier, the young Qatari lawyer had been appointed chief executive of his country’s quixotic bid to host the 2022 football World Cup. Qatar was an unlikely destination for one of the world’s biggest sporting festivals. A city state with a population of just under three million people, it lacked the infrastructure to host hundreds of thousands of visitors at a time. Its conservative culture restricts alcohol sales and forbids public displays of affection. And summer temperatures in the Gulf Peninsula soar well above 40C, potentially lethal for players.