Back in December 2010 Qatar won the right to host the World Cup in 2022. The announcement came as a surprise to many people. I am personally against this decision, and have decided to write down some of my thoughts on this topic. Read on and keep in mind that this is my own interpretation of events, announcements and reasons. It will be interesting to see how things pan out in the next 107 months till the first ball is kicked in Doha.
There are many sides to look at here. Let’s start by looking at FIFA.
The top authority in world football is not exactly well-known for being transparent with the way they conduct business. This is an issue that the Olympic committee had until the late 1990’s when a corruption scandal rocked them and big changes had to be made to shake up the way they were governed.
Traditionally, the voting process for hosting the World Cup is done for each installment of the tournament at a time around six years ahead of the tournament. For the 2018 and the 2022 world cups FIFA opted to choose the winning bids in the same ceremony. What this meant is that there was a lot of room for trading votes and striking deals that benefited voters.
The nature of the voting process stipulates that votes remain anonymous even after the announcement of the hosting country, so this allowed the voters to blatantly lie and give their word to certain countries that they will support them which was bollocks. England for instance was in the running to host the 2018 edition, and according to bid officials they had a certain number of votes. However, they crashed out after the first round of voting with less than half of those promised votes.
So FIFA went with the most lucrative options to them with Russia and Qatar. The former will host an okay World Cup in my opinion, not as good as what England or Holland/Belgium could deliver but it will be good enough. The latter country? Not really.
The current riots and protests in Brazil and even three years ago in South Africa (but on a much, much smaller scale in S. Africa) are examples that FIFA are no longer in line with the real world and that FIFA’s main concern is to gobble up as much revenues as possible with as little regard to the host nations. It’s a circus, and a very corrupt one at that as well… Here is Wikipedia’s description of the bribery allegations that the bid received:
“During May 2011, allegations of bribery on the part of two members of the FIFA Executive Committee were tabled by Lord Triesman of the English FA. These allegations were based on information from a whistleblower involved with the Qatari bid. FIFA has since opened an internal inquiry into the matter, and a revote on the 2022 World Cup remains a possibility if the allegations are proven. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has admitted that there is a ground swell of popular support to re-hold the 2022 vote won by Qatar.
In testimony to a UK parliamentary inquiry board in May 2011, Lord Triesman alleged that Trinidad and Tobago’s Jack Warner demanded $4 million for an education center in his country and Paraguay’s Nicolás Léoz asked for an honorary knighthood in exchange for their votes. Also, two Sunday Times reporters testified that they had been told that Jacques Anouma of the Ivory Coast and Issa Hayatou of Cameroon were each paid $1.5 million to support Qatar’s bid for the tournament. All four have denied the allegations. Mohammed bin Hammam, who played a key role in securing the games for Qatar, withdrew as a candidate for president of FIFA in May 2011 after being accused of bribing 25 FIFA officials to vote for his candidacy. Both Bin Hammam and Warner were suspended by FIFA in wake of these allegations, with Warner reacting to his suspension by questioning Blatter’s conduct and adding that FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke had also told him that Qatar had bought the 2022 World Cup. Valcke subsequently issued a statement denying he had suggested it was bribery, saying instead that the country had “used its financial muscle to lobby for support”. Qatar officials denied any impropriety.”
Financial muscle indeed… The amount Qatar reportedly paid to Pep Guardiola (Barcelona’s former manager, currently in charge of Bayern Munich) exceeds what England budgeted for their whole bid.
2. The country and the current football scene:
The country is very small in size and in terms of population. FIFA regulations stipulate that the World Cup should be spread out across various cities in the country, Qatar has no real cities at the moment other than the capital, Doha (And even Doha itself is not a big city in comparison to other Arab cities, let alone in comparison to major cities around the world).
The league has been around for some time but it is better known as a retirement home of has-beens and players looking for a final big paycheck before hanging their boots. The national team is very, very mediocre if you consider the amounts spent on the league and facilities. Heck, the national team is made up of foreigners who were given the Qatari citizenship (eg. Sebastián Soria) to represent the team with little impact. To date, Qatar have not qualified to the World Cup before (As far as I recall no other nation has hosted the World Cup without having made it to earlier tournaments) and are nowhere close to doing. They have consistently underperformed in qualifiers, despite investing heavily on highly paid managers and on training camps abroad.
2. The Stadiums:
It is a disturbing thought that a country hosting the World Cup does not have any current stadiums that will be used in 9 years time par one (Which will be renovated and expanded). All the other stadiums will b built from scratch at a high cost. To their credit, the longest time it would take to travel between any stadium to another will be 90 minutes, but then again Qatar is not exactly as massive as Australia or the States.
As part of the bid Qatar built a sample indoor arena with 500 seats to convince FIFA that they can pull it off. This cost the country $25m, which is more than what some countries spent on their whole bids.
3. The World Cup legacy:
Erm, what’s that? The Qataris will dismantle the stadiums once the tournament ends and ship them to developing footballing nations so they can benefit from them. This is a blatant tool that the Qataris used to get more votes from voters. This shows that they have no plans to build on a legacy, basically it’s the equivalent of building a temporary stage for a concert and getting rid of it afterwards. What Qatar could have decided to do is to keep the stadiums for the use of the local clubs and also make them multi-purpose venues akin to what S. Korea and Japan did after hosting the World Cup in 2002 to great effect.
Another part of the legacy that is disappointing is that as per what I read they will build around 60 new hotels in Doha for the World Cup. That’s good but upon closer inspection the new properties are mainly 5 star establishments which is not exactly convenient for budget travelers. Some of the hotels will be “floating” on the Arabian gulf (aka. Persian gulf, depending on what tickles your fancy). There will also be cruise ships that will be used to accommodate fans as temporary hotels. According to FIFA, 60,000 -90,000 accommodation units (Anything from a scrappy studio with shared bathrooms to a 7 star hotel suite) must be available in the host country. IF Qatar end up building only high-end properties then this will cause an oversupply of hotel rooms that will either be under-sold or sold at a much lower price than they should have been offered at. This somewhat sounds similar to Dubai pre-crisis when everything was premium and high-end (But that got sorted after a plethora of budget hotels came on board in the past couple of years but that’s not very relevant to the topic on hand here).
The World Cup could be used as a very effective tool to showcase the country and to really propel it into the international scene as a sporting destination. The signs now make it seem as though the main objective is to host a major event at whatever cost possible without really taking full advantage and thinking long term about it.
4. The heat:
Qatar as part of its bid promised that the summer heat and humidity will not have any impact on the World Cup, at least not within the stadiums. What the bid promised was fully air conditioned pitches and stands without affecting the spectators’ experience. That sounded absurd back then but the assumption was that they could pull it off by throwing enough money at it and that they had plenty of time to prepare for it.
One of Qatar’s plans is to have “artificial clouds to cover the sun”. Alright, brilliant, but as anyone who has walked outside in a shaded area would testify, it would still be too hot and humid! This is an artist’s impression of how it will look like: (Source). There is a demo of how it will be operated on YouTube, and I could not agree more with the (explicit) top comment there :).
Artificial clouds, air-conditioned stadiums, whatever they do for the stadiums will not be enough as there is another big factor that is not being taken into account: What about walking around, commuting to the tourist spots, hotels, malls, etc., you cannot cover the whole country with artificial clouds. The only way Qatar can even dream of tackling anything other than a completely indoor event (Which will be unfeasible and ridiculously costly, no matter how advanced technology will be in 9 years time).
In recent months several high profile figures in world football have been calling for the games to be moved to the more bearable winter instead, which will wreck havoc in the international footballing calendar in the years leading to and following the World Cup, which brings up the following point:
5. Winter tournament? Not a chance
Moving the tournament to the winter is not an option. The current football calendar is the result of years and years of meticulous planning, compromises and discussions between FIFA, continental football confederations, national football associations and league committees, broadcasting companies, sponsors and advertisers. Moving the football to the winter means that this whole system will be thrown into disarray just to accommodate a one-off tournament, no Qatar. This won’t work out and as the departing English FA head said, moving it to the winter would be “fundamentally flawed”
6. The culture:
The Qatari culture to put it mildly is not the most open-minded, the country has strict rules and controls on the sale and consumption of alcohol. Additionally, judging from my visit to the country does not seem to be ready for the number of scantily-clad women (and even men) that would be commonplace at all other similar global sporting events. Watching the Confederations Cup games and the footage from the stands (eg. Couples making out on cam) makes one wonder how a conservative place like Qatar will take that. Another issue would be homosexuals, which is illegal there (As it is officially in all Arabic countries if I am not mistaken). Another issue regarding the culture is having the right qualified people, doing the right thing which seems to be a major challenge according to Gary Wright. The reporter also alludes to the lack of transparency and the inflationary pressures that the country is facing. More established and developed countries had trouble hosting major tournaments (S. Africa and Brazil come to mind), will Qatar be able to put up a better show with less nightmares? Maybe not.
7. Infrastructure projects:
It could be worth mentioning that the new international airport in Doha is ridiculously behind schedule and there are no signs that the costly and embarrassing delays will end any time soon. The airport has been under construction since 2006 (To put things in perspective, Dubai airport has seen countless expansion and renovation projects in the same period, heck, even Jordan had a new airport planned, constructed and opened in less time). This is not a very encouraging sign.
Speaking of ports, Qatar have to complete building a new seaport by 2016 to be able to ship all the necessary building material into the country. Transportation projects such as the railway have to be launched as soon as possible, but it seems to be on track (pun intended).
To sum things up, Qatar have their plates full and have a lot of questions to answer in the coming years. Unfortunately it is blatant that the main reason the event is taking place is because of money and little else.
On the other hand….
Having said all of the above and for the sake of giving them the benefit of the doubt:
A lot can change in 9 years, to put things in perspective and by looking closer to home: The whole of the Downtown area in Dubai (with the world famous Burj Khalifa and the Dubai mall, the Palm Jumeirah, the Dubai Marina etc. were barely or not even officially announced 9 years ago.
Involvement in sport:
Experience of hosting and sponsoring big teams and other smaller-scale sporting events – With big sponsorships and ownerships of clubs (eg. Barcelona, PSG etc.) and having several big clubs and national teams visit the Qatari capital in recent years it can help the country work on its credentials and to plan for the big event, but having the Bayerns and AC Milans of this world for winter breaks and exhibition games is something and hosting the biggest football event on the planet is an entirely different matter…
Qatar hosted the Asian football cup back in 2011, a tournament characterized by having the lowest attendances in 11 years.
Sadly and fortunately at the same time money talks. Throwing enough money at something can work, not always but it may just be enough to cover the cracks and make the games seem to the outside world as a success.