sport

Robertson backs Qatar World Cup

Sports minister Hugh Robertson has given his full backing to Qatar's proposed plans to stage the 2022 World Cup.

Robertson, one of the speakers on the opening day of the Doha Goals forum in the Qatari capital, took time off to visit World Cup bosses and said he was seriously impressed.

Robertson, who suffered the indignity of being on the end of a heavy beating when England acquired only two votes during bidding for the 2018 World Cup, has heard all the negative comments about Qatar, half the size of Wales and with no football pedigree, winning 2022 by a landslide - but wanted to see things for himself.

After meeting both the Emir of Qatar and 2022 officials when he was given a complete presentation, Robertson said he was "absolutely amazed."

"I've never been here before even though I have travelled extensively around the Middle East," he said.

"Part of the attraction was to see what this phenomenon was all about in the way they won that bid and the way they presented other bids. Quite frankly it's mind-blowing.

"In my heart of hearts I have never thought major sports events should be restricted to Europe, the Americas or parts of the Far East that can host them."

Robertson was particularly impressed by Qatar's plans to dismantle stadiums and allow them to be transported to nations in need after the World Cup.

However, he said Qatar had to think very carefully about whether to switch the tournament to the winter.

"You are faced with the stark choice of an awful lot of air cooling or moving it to the temperate winter months, which is maybe better for the fans and players," he said.

"But that would have serious implications for the European football calendar. All this has done is bring into very sharp focus the challenges and pay-offs if you are going to carry out the desire to see major events in places like this."

Robertson dismissed suggestions, however, that Qatar was too small as well as too hot.

"Of the many things that might worry you, that is not one of them," he said.

"The Olympics is now 28 simultaneous world championships in one capital city. It's not a genuine problem."

With the specifics of the annual 125million funding package to UK Sport to be announced next week to cover the next four years, Robertson admitted there will be sports whose budget will be increased and those who under-performed and will suffer a cut.

"UK Sport have sat down with all the Olympic sports bar the two they don't fund - and have made their decisions," he said.

Earlier, Robertson told delegates it was too early to say exactly what the legacy from London 2012 would be.

"Some areas are pretty well defined; cycling, for instance, has completely taken off. But whether we succeed with the aim of producing a long-term increase in participation we can only judge in a couple of years' time."