The first World Cup to be held in the Middle East is about to get underway, with one or two shipowners watching more keenly than usual.

Hosts Qatar will play Ecuador on Sunday to bring the curtain up on a controversial tournament of some other notable firsts.

The 2022 edition of the football jamboree is the first to be held outside the months of June and July, due to the summer heat there.

A competition plagued by construction-worker deaths and human-rights issues will also see some matches played in the World Cup’s first temporary arena.

Stadium 974 in Ras Abu Aboud is made partially of 974 recycled shipping containers.

It will be dismantled after the final game is played.

Designed by Fenwick Iribarren Architects, the stadium can hold 40,000 people.

When the football begins, you can be sure shipowners Idan Ofer and Evangelos Marinakis will be watching closely.

Ofer owns Spain’s Atletico Madrid, which has seven players in Qatar, and Marinakis’ Nottingham Forest is contributing another five.

Atletico have Koke, Alvaro Morata and Marcos Llorente in the Spanish squad, while Nahuel Molina and Rodrigo de Paul will turn out for Argentina, and Yannick Carrasco and Axel Witsel will line up for Belgium.

Football and shipping intertwined

Idan Ofer and a golden football. Photo: EPS

English Premier League strugglers Forest have Brennan Johnson, Neco Williams and Wayne Hennessey competing for Wales, Cheikhou Kouyate has been named in Senegal’s squad and fellow midfielder Remo Freuler will pull on the jersey for Switzerland.

Ofer became shipping’s most high-profile football club owner in 2018 after snapping up a stake in Atletico. His Quantum Pacific Group acquired 32% of the La Liga giants after buying a 17% stake from China’s Dalian Wanda Group.

Forest owner Marinakis also controls Piraeus-based Olympiacos — the most successful football club in Greece. He is a rival of the Alafouzos clan, which owns rival club Panathinaikos.

Others to have had strong footballing allegiances include Freight Investor Services boss John Banaszkiewicz as a director of England’s Burnley FC, while Glauco ­Lolli-Ghetti, the grandfather of Scorpio boss Emanuele Lauro, was president at ­Italy’s Sampdoria.

Banaszkiewwicz told TradeWinds he had no plans to see any matches live, and was more interested in the recent takeover of English club Coventry City by his friend and former Cargill colleague Doug King.

Bulker investor Tor Olav Troim owns Oslo-based Valerenga, who are relative minnows in European football terms. The club had its debt wiped out earlier by former Troim employer John Fredriksen.

However, no one can match Spanish shipowner Vicente Boluda’s claim to fame, as he was president of Real Madrid in 2009.