‘Qatar’s progress is everywhere – and I am proud to have played a part in World Cup preparations’
In 2013, Williams Morales took a life-changing phone call. At the time, he was the civil engineer in charge of Basra Sport City in Iraq – a complex which included a 65,000-capacity stadium, five-star hotel and other sporting facilities. But on the other end of the line was a voice from Qatar, asking if he would be interested in helping the country prepare for the FIFA World Cup™.
“I was intrigued about Qatar,” said Morales, who was born in Venezuela to Spanish parents. “The person was talking about the World Cup – and it does not get any bigger than that. I needed to find out more about this incredible opportunity.”
Morales arrived in Iraq after managing several infrastructure projects in Spain, including the construction of a bank’s headquarters. Working in Iraq, however, meant being away from his family – something that would not be the case in Qatar.
“Qatar gave me an opportunity to work with the best of the best in engineering and construction – it was something I could not turn down,” said Morales.
“Also, being away from my family in Iraq was very hard. One of the great benefits of moving to Qatar was having my family with me. It was the perfect match.”
After arriving in Qatar, Morales was tasked with his most demanding project to-date – working closely with the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy’s (SC) senior management team to build Al Janoub Stadium – the first Qatar 2022 venue to be built from scratch.
He fondly remembers breaking ground at the construction site in 2014 and recalls his first meeting with the designers, who explained the unique elements of the 40,000-capacity venue, which would feature innovative cooling technology for the benefit of players and fans.
Speaking outside the stadium, Morales said: “This whole area was completely empty – there was absolutely nothing apart from sand, dust and our portacabins. The challenge was to begin digging and replicate the stunning design. And thanks to an incredibly motivated team, we managed to achieve that.”
The design of Al Janoub is especially striking. Its flowing patterns are inspired by dhow boats used by Al Wakrah’s seafaring community. In years gone by, pearl trading provided the cornerstone of the Al Wakrah economy.
Morales said one of the key challenges was building and constructing the stadium’s roof.
“As an engineer, the challenge was to bring Zaha Hadid’s beautiful concept to life. The curved roof, stunning façade and structural system comprise one of the most complex structures in the world. Practically all the elements are different and it required a detailed design and a huge amount of logistics work with experts from all around the world to deliver this unique masterpiece of engineering and architecture. Hard work, collaboration and coordination with global experts ensured we delivered everything to perfection.”
On 16 May 2019, Al Janoub Stadium was inaugurated. It became the second fully-functional Qatar 2022 stadium after Khalifa International, which was redeveloped prior to its inauguration in 2017. The spectacular opening ceremony of Al Janoub included a stunning laser show, fireworks and cultural performances – one of which paid tribute to the late Hadid, who died three years before the stadium was completed.
As the rapturous cheers of more than 36,000 fans filled the stadium during the inauguration, Morales felt incredibly proud of his contribution.
“It was my baby. It was definitely a moment of great emotion because during those last months in the lead-up to the launch, it was very intense. We were putting together the final touches and all the details had to be perfect. For me, the most magical moment was when the ceremony started and the lights switched on. I immediately felt relaxed. It was beautiful watching it come to life.”
Today, Morales stands proudly outside the completed venue, where he continues to manage daily operations and special events. He also leads tours of the stadium on a regular basis – a task he describes as very rewarding.
He said: “It is an amazing feeling when we meet people from all over the world. I love seeing their faces when they see the stadium or walk on the pitch for the first time. We welcome people from all walks of life – schoolchildren, presidents and former players. Having idols like Xavi Hernandez, Roberto Carlos, Cafu and Samuel Eto’o here – and kicking a ball with them on the pitch – is an incredible feeling.”
After almost eight years with the SC, Morales cannot wait until the stadium hosts matches during the World Cup. Al Janoub is slated to host seven games up to the round of 16 stage in 2022.
“It will be thrilling to see the world’s best teams here in 2022. It will be the biggest event in Al Wakrah’s history and I am very proud to have played a part in making that happen.”
Away from Al Janoub, Morales loves exploring Qatar with his family and friends. However – wherever he goes – he cannot avoid World Cup preparations.
“If you drive around the country, you see the progress everywhere – whether it’s stadiums, the expressways, the metro or new harbours. It’s incredible to see Qatar develop something completely unique.”
Morales added: “When I first arrived here from Basra, I didn’t know what to expect from Qatar. But then I discovered the traditions, the sense of humour and the way of life are very similar to my own. Qatar really has a magic – a charm – and I recommend everyone to visit the country for the World Cup.”