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Qatar 2022: A smart investment or a $200bn folly?

Qatar is hoping to appeal to fans from all generations Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Qatar is hoping to appeal to fans from all generations

Doha is banking on long-term economic gains from the World Cup to offset the negative attention it has received since it won the hosting rights 

When Qatar won the right to stage the 2022 FIFA World Cup in 2010 it shocked much of the footballing world. 

By beating Australia, South Korea, Japan and the US, the tiny Gulf state would become the first country in the Middle East to host the tournament. 

It also meant a rescheduling of the global event from summer to winter and the construction of an entire footballing ecosystem from scratch. 

Qatar’s controversial triumph has been subject to speculation ever since. 

Allegations of corruption have cast a shadow over FIFA’s decision from the outset and the reported abuse of migrant workers, including those involved in the construction of the  tournament infrastructure, has drawn widespread criticism. 

Human rights charity Amnesty International has referred to the tournament as the “Qatar World Cup of Shame” and accused the country of failing to end exploitation of workers despite wide-ranging legal reforms and the abolition of the “kafala” sponsorship system.

Last February analysis by The Guardian newspaper revealed that more than 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the country won the right to host the tournament. Qatar refutes that figure saying that a total of 37 such deaths occurred between 2014 and 2020.  

Considerable concerns remain, with various brands, sporting personalities and football federations having distanced themselves from what is undoubtedly the most controversial World Cup in recent memory. 

Former England captain Gary Lineker, now the BBC’s no1 football presenter, declined to host the Cup’s draw event, citing Qatar’s human rights record, while the Netherland’s ING Bank and GLS Belgium, which sponsor their respective nation’s football teams, opted against leveraging those marketing relationships for Qatar 2022, reportedly for similar reasons. 

British footballing icon David Beckham – who reportedly signed a £10 million deal to be the face of the World Cup – has also been criticised by civil rights groups.

In response, Qatar has accused its critics of anti-Arab sentiment and highlighted the regulatory reforms it has made in recent years, including abolishing the kafala system, which made it illegal for workers to change jobs or leave the country without their employer’s approval, and introducing a minimum wage for migrant workers. 

As reported by AGBI, speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in May, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, said: “For decades now, the Middle East has suffered from discrimination. 

“And I have found out that such discrimination is largely based on people not knowing us, and in some cases, refusing to get to know us. 

“Even today, there are still people who cannot accept the idea that an Arab-Muslim country would host a tournament like the World Cup.”

With a projected worldwide audience of five billion, Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup invokes two starkly contrasting opinions. 

Ground staff work on a training pitch ahead of the Qatar World Cup
Ground staff work on a training pitch ahead of the Qatar World Cup

Advocates argue that such a “transformational tournament”, as Al Thani has described it, could contribute $20 billion to the country’s economy. 

Critics see it as an “act of economic madness”, as Professor Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College in Massachusetts, put it, destined to create nothing but a series of white elephants. 

Eight stadiums are being built or redeveloped including the high-profile Foster + Partners-designed Lusail Stadium, and most will be either partially or fully dismantled after the event. 

Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the organisation responsible for coordinating ensuring World Cup development projects are delivered, has estimated the cost of their construction – as well as that of all related infrastructure – at around $200 billion.

To put that in perspective, it’s more than 16 times the $11.7 billion Russia spent hosting and preparing for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.  

According to Garbis Iradian, chief economist for the MENA region and Central Asia at the Institute of International Finance, Qatar’s real GDP growth is predicted to accelerate to 3.8 per cent in 2022 (up from 1.8 per cent in 2021) thanks to the World Cup as well as higher global oil and gas prices. 

“Our estimates show that the FIFA World Cup will contribute about one percentage point of GDP to the total growth,” Iradian told AGBI, with the hospitality sector and other services set to be the primary beneficiaries. 

The World Cup will also “help Qatar to better position itself globally” and “to achieve some of the objectives set in Qatar’s National Vision 2030, including progress in diversification of the economy”, added Iradian. 

That diversification is being aided by significant investment in the country’s infrastructure, including the construction of a new city, Lusail; a 37-station metro system; new airport; the new Doha Expressway; and dozens of other projects. 

More than 100 hotels are also being built, all overseen by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the official government body responsible for delivering the required infrastructure and host country planning, as well as operations and legacy projects. 

The committee declined to respond to AGBI’s requests for comment.

Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, and Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, meet the secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy Hassan Al Thawadi and CEO of the 2022 World Cup Nasser Al Khater
Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, and Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, meet the secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy Hassan Al Thawadi and CEO of the 2022 World Cup Nasser Al Khater at the Lusail Stadium

Qatar World Cup in numbers

Monday November 21 – Sunday December 18 Tournament dates

1.5 million Number of fans expected to attend

3.08 million Projected ticket sales

$20 billion Estimated revenue to Qatar

$220 billion Cost of hosting the tournament

World Cup costs since 1994

United States 1994 $500 million

France 1998 $2.3 billion

Japan 2002 $7 billion

Germany 2006 $4.3 billion

South Africa 2010 $3.6 billion

Brazil 2014 $15 billion

Russia 2018 $11.6 billion

Qatar 2022 $220 billion