When the first-ever World Cup to be held in the Arab region kicks off in Qatar two years down the line, there will be a lot of proud minds who have played a part in helping the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) live up to the 'Deliver Amazing' tagline of the event.
Three out of the eight proposed venues have already been thrown open to the world while the work is ahead of schedule on the rest. Given the number of game-changing innovations the 'world-class' facilities already have, it already has the feel of a tournament you shouldn't miss.
In the midst of all those proud people will be a West Bengal native whose tremendous effort and dedication was significant in two World Cup projects - the Al Rayyan stadium and Al Janoub stadium.
Kiran Bairagi, who hails from a town called Habra in North 24 Parganas District in West Bengal, works for the Technical Delivery Office (TDO) of the SC and is in charge of Occupational Health and Safety at Al Janoub and Al Rayyan stadiums. He also supports in planning Host Country Operations.
Bairagi completed his technical and higher education in Bengaluru, Chennai, Vadodara and Mumbai and has been working the Middle East region over the last two decades in various sectors such as oil and gas and infrastructure development. He joined SC in April 2014.
In his role, Bairagi works to prevent accidents, injuries and work-related illness and property damages due to technical and procedural deviations. He also formulates, reviews and approves projects, policies and procedures, risk assessment and conducts employee training in health and safety procedures.
"I feel privileged and proud working for the SC and on a project as significant as the World Cup Qatar 2022. The SC is an organisation where I get inter and intra-departmental support and executive management commitment – these are crucial support structures to manage Occupational Health and Safety in multi-cultural and multi-lingual work environments," Bairagi told Goal.
His exemplary work has seen Al Rayyan Stadium become the first project to achieve the significant milestone of 20 million working hours twice without any lost time due to injuries.
"Representatives of FIFA, International Labour Organization (ILO), Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) and Government of Qatar’s Labour Ministry have visited Al Rayyan Stadium many times and each time they have appreciated the excellent implementation of the globally accepted health and safety practices," he explained.
More interestingly, the work at the Al Rayyan stadium is being carried out by an Indian firm in Larsen & Toubro (L&T) - the first time an Indian company has been involved in a World Cup construction project. Bairagi feels privileged to have been involved in such a landmark development.
"As an Indian national, I am proud to have been associated with the Al Rayyan Stadium project, the first time an Indian company is building a FIFA World Cup stadium. I am equally proud to have managed the Indian company associated with the stadium’s construction towards global excellence in health and safety practices," he added.
The Al Rayyan stadium is set for inauguration later this year and is currently undergoing Qatar Civil Defence testing and commissioning procedures.
Bairagi is a huge football fan, which is no surprise given that he comes from West Bengal - a state that is known for its passion for the Beautiful Game. Kolkata, of course, is home to two of India's most supported clubs - East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Bairagi is a huge fan of the Red and Golds who are all set to play in India's top tier - the Indian Super League (ISL) next season.
He even recollects going to watch the famed Kolkata derby live back in his days. The derby, which will now debut in the ISL from the 2020-21 season, evoked a lot of great memories for Bairagi.
"East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are the most supported clubs in Kolkata and in the whole of India as well. From my childhood, I have been an East Bengal fan.
"In Kolkata, we call the derby as ‘Boro’ (big) match. It is the dream of every Bengali to watch the ‘Boro’ match. It was mine as well. I was lucky to get a ticket among 130,000 people to watch the semifinal of the Federation Cup in 1997. I even remember the date – 13 July. It was at the Salt Lake Stadium, which till not so long ago was the sports stadium with the one of the biggest capacities in the world.
"It was an awesome experience and East Bengal’s 4-1 win made it a really special evening. Bhaichung Bhutia scored a hat-trick. Mohun Bagan played better in the first 30 minutes but East Bengal dominated the second half when Bhutia sealed the game, sending us fans into celebrations for the rest of the evening," gushed Bairagi.
Just like every other football-loving Bengali, Bairagi also follows international football. Brazil and Argentina have a huge following in West Bengal and Bairagi is no different to the people from his state. He admires both Latin American teams but is a self-confessed Diego Maradona fan.
"Loyalties of football fans in West Bengal are divided between Brazil and Argentina. However, I like both the South American giants equally. The first World Cup I watched on TV was Mexico 1986. It goes without saying that Diego Maradona was my favourite. He was amazing in 1986 and it was my first ever World Cup – for these reasons he will always be a World Cup favourite for me," he added.
"In modern football, I like Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and Mbappe."
Interestingly, working with the 2022 World Cup organisers has seen Bairagi get the chance to hobnob with some of his footballing heroes.
"I have been privileged to see international footballers up close. Such as when Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winner Roberto Carlos visited Al Janoub Stadium site when it was under construction. I took some photographs with the legend. It was a nice memory.
"PSG players have also visited Al Janoub Stadium. I had the opportunity to meet and greet them as well which was a great experience."
As such, watching a World Cup game live has been a dream for Bairagi and he is excited for it to come true two years down the line. And the fact that he can experience that at venues he helped construct will truly be an everlasting memory in its truest sense. Bairagi will live his dream in 2022 when Asia's second World Cup kicks off.
"It has been my lifelong dream to watch at least one World Cup match as a spectator. That dream is going to be a reality in 2022. I will not only be watching the World Cup but holding a shared responsibility to ensure a safe and secure tournament.
"For me personally, all World Cup matches taking place in Al Rayyan Stadium and Al Janoub Stadium will be emotionally overwhelming experiences. I don’t think I will be able to describe them in words. I can feel it in my heart and will carry it in my memory forever."