Should the 2022 Football World Cup take place in Qatar?

In 2010, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) shocked the world by awarding the 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Qatar. Since then, the tournament has faced an unending torrent of scrutiny from all sides. In this highly controversial climate, is this an opportunity for the Qatari and international economy to soar? Or should businesses seek to distance themselves from this deadly vanity project?

This World Cup will be the first ever to be hosted by a Middle East nation. However, even now, there are still anxieties over whether a World Cup in Qatar is actually physically possible. With a surface area of just 11,571 km² (12 times smaller than the UK), it’s likely that the predicted millions of international visitors will cause huge overcrowding during the tournament. There also remains the question of whether it’s safe to play football in Qatar’s extreme climate. FIFA have already moved the event to the Winter for the first time in its history, where temperatures are expected to peak around 30 degrees Celsius.

Regardless of the fundamental problems, what this World Cup does signify is the continuing shift in economic power towards the Gulf states. The oil and gas-rich nation of Qatar is choosing to project its national image through football, just as Abu Dhabi have done with Manchester City, and Saudi Arabia have just begun doing with Newcastle United. With the world watching, it’s an extraordinary gamble, but one that some industries could reap immense benefits from.

Which industries will benefit from the Qatar World Cup?

As with any World Cup, the sure-winners will be the travel, hospitality and car-rental sectors. Hotels and restaurants across Qatar will be expecting profits to rocket during the month-long tournament. However, where Qatar is a particularly special case is in its lack of existing football infrastructure. Since 2010, eight new state-of-the-art stadiums have been constructed, including the 80,000-seater Lusail Stadium, around which an entire new city has been built.

With new cities, comes new roads, new public transport systems, new airports, new everything. In this hive of activity, the construction industry has benefitted massively. The US alone has already invested at least US$10billion in the project, and the Qatari construction industry has reported growth rates of 5% in the last two years, the Oxford Business Group reports.

A more surprising benefactor of the footballing festival is the solar energy industry. Faced with the challenge of Qatar’s oppressive heat, the Qatari government have sought to invest in new solar technologies capable of converting the energy from the sun’s rays into air conditioning for the stadiums.

A World Cup without beer

One potential stumbling block for the 2022 World Cup is the fact that Qatar is a dry country. Both the vending and consumption of alcohol are illegal. Many of the World Cup’s key sponsors are alcohol companies, including Budweiser. There’s also the concern over whether international fans will feel as motivated to travel if they cannot have a drink. FIFA are still in talks with Qatari officials to see if an exception can be made, but it’s unlikely the nation will budge from their devout religious laws.

Meanwhile, back home in the UK, it’s uncertain how the pubs will handle a Winter World Cup. In colder temperatures, the traditional football beer garden may not reap the same rewards as they did this previous Summer. The final of Euro 2020 saw the UK purchase over 13million pints, the Daily Mail reports. It remains to be seen whether fans will wrap up warm to maintain those numbers.

Will Qatar benefit from the World Cup long-term?

When Qatar were announced as World Cup hosts, their government officials estimated that the project would generate 1.5million new jobs in construction, real estate and hospitality (as reported by Western Social Science). These jobs, of course, are only short-term. What Qatar is hoping for the most is that the tournament increases their international profile as a tourist destination long into the future. Tournament organisers see this as an opportunity for the country to create a sustained and successful legacy for themselves and the entire Middle East.

However, some experts are concerned that, even with the Qataris’ enormous wealth, it could take a lifetime for the country to recover from this seismic financial escapade. The tournament has already cost them £149billion in infrastructure, not including the £224billion spent to build the new city of Lusail (the i reports).

Many are concerned that, should the tournament not run smoothly, or fail to be entertaining, the country’s dream of sustained legacy-tourism could fall flat. For Brazil, who hosted the World Cup in 2014, the economic bounce of the tournament was short-lived, and they were left with several now-useless stadiums which had forced many citizens from their homes for almost no reason.

Perhaps their biggest worry is stadium safety. Since 2017, several other Gulf countries have implemented air, land and sea blockades against Qatar, preventing the scheduled arrival of necessary resources and materials for stadium production. Scheduling problems have dogged the Qatari stadium projects ever since construction began. If they are not up to standard by the time the World Cup begins, there are fears that the only legacy left behind will be one of disaster.

Human rights abuses and the deadly cost of football

For some, this World Cup is already a disaster. Qatar has a colossal migrant workforce. In fact, a Statista report from 2017 suggested that, of the country’s 2.6million population, 2.3million of those were migrant workers, with around 1.6million drafted in to work on World Cup stadia and infrastructure. These workers come mostly from South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Shockingly, The Guardian found that over 6,500 of these workers have died since Qatar was made World Cup host; that’s 12 deaths a week between 2011 and 2020. Common causes of death included blunt trauma and hanging. However, only 34 deaths were able to be attributed to stadium work, often caused by cardiac arrest or respiratory failure. It can’t be confirmed whether these were the result of persistent work in extreme heat or the result of underlying health conditions.

The Qatar government has insisted that these fatality figures are normal and proportional to the unprecedented size of the workforce. However, the US state department has previously reported working conditions equivalent to that of slavery, with some workers receiving punishments such as withdrawal of salaries, beatings and even sexual assault.

Since these allegations came to light, Qatar has committed to reforming worker’s rights in partnership with the International Labour Organisation. There are some who hope that the World Cup could, in time, help to transform working conditions for the better across the Gulf. However, many are less convinced. A survey by morningconsult.com found that 11% of UK citizens strongly support the boycotting of the tournament. With this in mind, businesses may want to carefully consider how they engage with this tournament and the discourse around it.

With the opening ceremony just 11 months away, Qatar’s fate still appears to be on a knife-edge. If they pull it off, it could unlock a new era of tourism and sporting excellence for the area, with countless new areas for businesses to grow into. If they fail, the project could become one of the greatest white elephants in world history.

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