Every football player dreams of playing in the World Cup. Every sports writer dreams of covering one.
In 2014, I was nominated by default – I will not go into the details – to cover the Brazil World Cup but could not travel for personal reasons. I cannot believe I missed a chance to take a stroll on the famous Copacabana beach in Rio, and to sit at the iconic Maracana. My heart still goes “lub-dub” at that thought.
My next chance came this year when my boss Elias Makori informed me I would be the one to cover the Qatar World Cup for the Nation Media Group.
Let me let you in on one thing, preparing to cover a World Cup is as tough as trying to qualify for one. The first thing is getting an accreditation. Considering Harambee Stars are not at the World Cup, Fifa had just two slots for Kenya.
It gets complicated. One has to be selected by the federation. Nation and I in particular, were not in good books with the disbanded federation that was recently reinstated. In fact, the federation flatly refused to give me the slot and it took the frantic intervention of one of my colleagues for them to relent.
But alas, shock awaited me when I learnt the two Kenya slots had been given out just days to the deadline in August.
Journalism is about resilience, persistence and enterprise. Makori promptly wrote an official letter to Fifa and also informed AIPS leadership. I, on the other front, informed the head of Sports Journalist Association of Kenya. How can the largest media house in the region not be accredited for the World Cup?
Fifa, for all their faults, are a reasonable organisation. I duly obtained my accreditation. The next step was acquiring a visa to Qatar. I got the contacts of the Qatar Embassy in Nairobi online but the telephone line went unanswered.
Several days of trying later and on the brink of making a physical visit to the diplomatic centre, Fifa informed me that I could apply online through a special portal for a Hayya Card that would allow me entry to Qatar.
Next was keeping my fingers crossed I stayed healthy, and nothing drastic happened to the world that could lead to the cancellation of the tournament; like a meteorite falling in the Middle East! Seriously.
The Qatar government lifted Covid-19 restrictions including prove of vaccination and a negative PCR test.
Up till Friday night I was still apprehensive about my tour. Will I board the plane? Will I land in Doha?
D-day. My passport. Check. My Hayya Card. Check. My air ticket. Check. My travel insurance. Check. My working equipment and luggage. Check.
“All my bags are packed. I’m ready to go. I’m standin’ here outside your door. I hate to wake you up to say goodbye. I am leaving on a jet plane, I will be back next month,” I told my teary-eyed wife – God bless her, this morning.
Destination Qatar. I am excited. This is the World Cup. But I am also apprehensive. This is not a holiday. For the next 30 days, straight, I will be filing stories across the NMG platforms – newspaper, online and television.
This daily log of my experience in Qatar where football’s greatest spectacle is taking place in the Arab world for the first time in history, is just one of my many, many missives that will be coming from the Gulf via the Nation.
Join me as I share with you my daily experiences in this, the most compact (some say most controversial) World Cup in history.
And ask me anything about football and Qatar.