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Eyes on Qatar as clock to 2022 World Cup ticks

Qatar is likely to spend more in getting the stadiums ready as each of the newly-built match venues comes complete with a temperature control mechanism to shield players and fans from searing heat.

BY JAMES ONYANGO

Infrastructure is key element in sports development, and if a country is to host a major tournament like the FIFA World Cup or the Olympic Games, it must build sports infrastructure.

The FIFA World Cup particularly requires the host country to invest in state-of-the-art stadiums, a good road network, airports and hotels to host teams and fans. For the host countries, the biggest investment is usually stadiums. Russia hosted the 2018 FIFA World Cup in 12 stadiums spread across 11 cities.  FIFA dubbed it the most expensive yet the best edition of the tournament.

Unique challenges

Qatar is building eight new stadiums to host the 2022 edition of the tournament. However, Qatar faces unique challenges ahead of the tournament’s kick-off which is scheduled for November 21 to December 18.

During this period, European football leagues, which normally conclude in May to pave the way for the start of the FIFA World Cup in its traditional date of June, will be mid-season when the 2022 tournament starts. That means players may not be at their peak when they head for World Cup mid-season as opposed to end of season.

Qatar is already feeling pressure from an economic blockade on the small but wealthy Gulf nation by her neighbours Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia which has led to increased cost of travel and importation of construction material.

Last year, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt effected the economic blockade on Qatar, later followed by the Maldives, Mauritania, Senegal, Djibouti, the Comoros, Jordan and Yemeni government and severed diplomatic relations with Qatar. They banned Qatari airplanes and ships from entering their airspace and sea routes. The closure of the only land crossing by Saudi Arabia particularly hit Qatar hard even as the country maintained it would not slow down its preparations for the 2022 World Cup.

Lessons from Russia

Perhaps keen to learn key lessons from Russia on how to successfully host a tournament of such a magnitude, Qatar sent a one-hundred-man contingent to the 2018 tournament in Russia, led by Hassan Al Thawadi, the Chief Executive Officer of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Local Organising committee.

While addressing the press in Moscow on July 13, 2018 just two days to the final 2018 World Cup tournament, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the tournament would be moved from its traditional summer dates to shield participating teams from the extreme heat of Qatar. A vote on this was expected at the FIFA Congress in June, but it did not take place. “There should be a joint decision on this between FIFA and Qatar in the next few months,” said Infantino.

He also hinted a possibility of the tournament featuring more than 32 teams, although a decision is yet to be made regarding the number of teams. “It will be a common decision taken between FIFA and Qatar and we are now studying the feasibility of expanding it to a 48-team World Cup. However, all preparations are based on 32 teams,” Al Thawadi told journalists in Moscow.

Just before the final match of the 2018 World Cup between Croatia and France in July 15, 2018, President Vladimir Putin hosted the delegation at the Kremlin in Moscow where he handed over a ceremonial ball to Al Thawadi in the presence of Infantinno, signalling that the baton was now with Qatar.

More pressure

Should the number of competing World Cup teams go beyond 32 to the proposed 48 teams, Qatar will feel additional pressure that comes with hosting the quadrennial tournament. According to World Bank, Qatar has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of USD152.5 billion (KSh15.25 trillion), one of the richest economies of the world, but it is expected to feel financial pressure in putting up stadiums to take care of the increased number of teams. It should be noted that constructing stadiums takes time which Qatar may not afford at such a short notice.

Working with a 32-team tournament in mind, Qatar, the first Arab country to host the FIFA World Cup, has already availed one stadium while another two are scheduled to be ready this year. The rest are scheduled to be completed by 2021 when the Gulf nation hosts the FIFA Confederations Cup to test the facilities.

Russia, which according to the World Bank has a GDP of USD1.283 trillion (KSh128.3 trillion), hosted the most expensive edition of the FIFA World Cup and spent total of USD13 billion (KSh1.3 trillion) to get venues ready.

While Qatar will host the tournament in eight stadiums as opposed to 11 in Russia’s case, the oil-rich nation is likely to spend more in getting the stadiums ready as each of the newly-built match venues comes complete with a temperature control mechanism to shield players and fans from searing heat. The biggest of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup venues is Lusail Iconic Stadium, Al-Daayen being built from scratch to have a capacity for 86,250. It will host the opening match and the final. Six other stadia will be in Doha.

James Onyango is a PhD student at Moi University. Email: Jamesy.news@gmail.com

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