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The pros and cons of Qatar’s 2022 bid 20, September 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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8 comments

On 2nd December  FIFA will decide who will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Qatar is hoping that, despite being widely seen as a rank outsider, it will be selected as the host country for the 2022 event. Here are a few ‘pros and cons’ of Qatar’s bids as I see them.

Money

Qatar can promise to iron out practically any issues with oodles of cash. Only this week, they were deemed to be the richest country in the world per capita. This means that you can buy the endorsement of top-level ex-footballers like Zinedine Zidane, Ronald De Boer and Pep Guardiola. Also, at the Confederation of African Football on the eve of the African Cup of Nations, Qatar bought the rights to be the only contender officially allowed to promote themselves to the delegates and dignitaries.

Money also means that Qatar’s public transport infrastructure can be wholly overhauled to a potentially unrivaled degree. This would be wholly necessary. Currently Doha’s public transport systems are poor and thousands of fans were left stranded after the England-Brazil match last year after no-one saw fit to arrange any kind of public transport whatsoever.

Stadiums

Qatar’s bottomless pot of money means that they can build stunning stadiums that would undoubtedly impress FIFA and create a fantastic spectacle.

(It is interesting to note that Qatar plans a stadium with wraparound uber wide-screen TVs on the outside; some 420,000 square feet of them, to be precise. This advertising bonanza will, I’d have thought, catch on.)

Middle East

The fact that neither the Middle East nor a Muslim country has hosted a World Cup augers in Qatar’s favor with FIFA always looking to further football’s reach. The 370,000,000 ‘Middle Easteners’ already have significant interest in football and if Qatar can dexterously market themselves, they could perhaps draw in more Muslims from across Asia into football too.

The other side of this particular coin is that Qatar sits between Saudi Arabia and Iran not all that far from Iraq. Whilst it is a peaceful little place with only one terrorist incident of note in recent years along with sporadic (minor) Iranian attacks on their oil and gas facilities, simply being in the dreaded “Middle East” is too much for some people.

Small

I’m not surprised that Qatar say that they want to host “a new type of World Cup”. Indeed, the ‘compact’ nature of Qatar mandates that the World Cup be played over an area vastly smaller than ever before. The largest distance between stadiums in Qatar 2022 is to be less than 130km whereas, at the opposite end of the scale with Russia’s 2018-2022 bids, there would be a distance of just under 2500km between its furthest stadiums.

It is up to Qatar to turn its size into an asset and not a liability. At the moment, there are not remotely enough hotels in the whole country. For example, during the Asian Games held in 2006, guests had to stay in Bahrain and be flown and shipped in. Doha is a nest of cranes at the moment, with most seemingly building hotels. But the World Cup would mean – quite literally – that land of the Qatar Peninsula would ‘host’ the most amount of people in its history: a strange thought. Whether enough hotels, transport links, restaurants, public toilets, taxis and visas can be issued and constructed in time is a serious challenge. (On the latter point, Qatar’s poorly thought-out plans to introduce ‘no visa on arrival’ for tourists will surely mark them down.)

Conservative

Qatar is a conservative Muslim country. It is impossible to buy alcohol (legally) anywhere but high-end hotels and restaurants at extortionate prices or at a government-run warehouse for resident ex-pats with the proper documentation. While FIFA is unlikely to care about the price of a pint for the average fan, they must surely take into account fans’ perspectives to some degree.

It would be politically difficult domestically and internationally for Qatar to open up any kind of open-air fan park where alcohol is available, as Germany did to much acclaim. Currently, any kind of public drunkenness is punished by a night in the cells or worse. The thought of thousands of celebratory or downhearted England fans, shirts off, singing and shouting raucously on Doha’s corniche does not – at the moment – bear thinking about. I see no easy way around this for Qatar aside from a difficult but sensible temporary amnesty (or extreme leniency) towards merry fans.

Heat

One of the key issues for Qatar is its scorching and sweaty summer. Temperatures easily reach 50 degrees C and the humidity is oppressive: even the natives of the Gulf (i.e. the ones that are ‘used’ to the heat) leave in droves for Beirut and London during the summer.  The World Cup would be held – from this perspective – at the worst time of year. Qatar has, therefore, invested in cooling technologies. The pitches are to be cooled to a pleasant 19 degrees C and fans in the stadiums too will have some kind of AC. Though, of course, the rest of Doha will be baking and unpleasant. The power for this cooling will come from solar power harnessed by the stadiums themselves: a nice green point even if open-air AC is intrinsically hideously wasteful.

However, football teams at the tournaments need training facilities – 2 pitches per team, I believe. So 32 teams means that 64 grass pitches that are air-conditioned to a height of 2 meters will need to be constructed. This is, as far as I see it, a key problem. Any notion that Qatar’s World Cup will be ‘green-friendly’ wholly disappears unless Qatar plans to incorporate solar technology into all 64 (temporary) training pitches too, which, in and of itself, would lead to a colossal use of resources.

Avoiding white elephants

Currently, Qatar’s population is around 1.6 million of whom less than a quarter of a million are Qataris. To avoid the curse of the white elephant (which, I fear, South Africa will suffer harshly from) Qatar plans to remove the upper tiers of their stadiums and ship them to developing countries. This PR exercise will go towards promoting their green and wholesome credentials and reduce the chance of too many stadiums being far too big after the World Cup.

So…

Qatar’s stadiums and other beautiful attractions would impress all fans as would the compact and likely friendly atmosphere. However, the temperature is truly extremely uncomfortable and a Qatari World Cup would be hideously expensive for the average fan unless the Government subsidized accommodation. Yet none of this is of primary importance to FIFA. They’d be chauffeured from plush 5 star hotels to plush 5 star VVIP areas in the air conditioned stadiums and back again. Their interest is – without wishing to seem too cynical – primarily monetary. While a Qatari World Cup would be profitable, not only is Qatar a risk but England, Australia and America can offer an unmatched scale and guarantees. If FIFA feel like taking a risk then Russia, backed with their own billionaires and autocratic ‘get zee job done’ government mentality, arguably represents a safer risky bet.