By Giovanna Drysdale-Anderson
Correspondent, Economics & EnglishUndergraduate Student
A few months after the 2015 Men’s Handball Tournament in Qatar, it is about time to reassess the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, undoubtedly one of the most controversial sports events in history.
Among the numerous controversies regarding Qatar’s right to host the 2022 winter World Cup are allegations of worker exploitation, bribery of FIFA officials and various violations of human rights. Nevertheless, the small but wealthy Middle Eastern nation has shown its determination to remain the host of the major quadrennial football tournament, attended by hundreds of thousands of football fans and spectated from afar by many more. Qatar’s increasing interest to invest in sport is not by any means a secret.
With almost 100 sports events it hosts a year, the country last year notably hosted the 2015 FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup, the World Men’s Handball Championship, and its annual Qatar Open, welcoming several of the top male and female tennis players from around the world. Still to come are the 2019 World Track and Field Championship and the 2022 FIFA World Cup. As if these were not enough, it has also been confirmed that Qatar is bidding to host the 2023 FIBA World Basketball Championships as well.
As a nation clearly en route to becoming the sports capital of the Gulf Cooperation Council and maybe one day of the world, Qatar is a curious case of a state that hosts major sports events while simultaneously building its own sport tradition from scratch, something that seems to work surprisingly well – as long as there is a little oil money available.
Qatar is a curious case of a state that hosts major sports events while simultaneously building its own sport tradition from scratch, something that seems to work surprisingly well – as long as there is a little oil money available.
With a jaw-dropping $200 billion budget, Qatar has already surpassed South Africa’s $2.7 billion World Cup expenditure, Brazil’s $14 billion, and Russia’s predicted $50 billion for the 2018 Cup, more than tripling the combined amount spent in these three World Cups. So why are the costs so high?
A look at the expenses in the lead up to the Men’s World Handball Championship that took place last year reveals a trend of over-spending. The $250 million it took to hold the event, although nothing compared to the $200 billion being poured into preparations for 2022, was 20 times more than the amount Spain spent when it hosted the same championship two years ago. Besides building world-class handball facilities, including three completely new arenas with a total of 30,000 seats, and flying in celebrities such as Jason Derulo and Pharel Williams to provide entertainment, the country also went to great lengths to prepare its national team for the competition. Not only did it hire a Spanish coach, but it also offered whopping contracts to some of the best handball players from around the world, bringing together a capable international team where more than half the players had been naturalized three years before the championship.
In addition to buying talent, the country demonstrated that support can also be easily bought. Qatar hired sixty noisy Spaniards who were to cheer for the national team throughout the championship, paying for the full cost of their flights and hotel accommodation. In the end, the country lost to France 22-25, coming second but winning its first medal in Men’s Handball. From being previously ranked 32nd in the world to becoming the third non-European team to ever even play for a medal in the championship, the national team (described by some as Qatar’s ‘foreign legion’) had nothing less than an outstanding performance. As a whole, the Men’s World Handball Championship proved to have been successful, but undeniably different from previous World Handball Championships.
In addition to buying talent, the country demonstrated that support can also be easily bought.
In the same way, the 2022 World Cup promises to be unlike any previous FIFA World Cups. The nation’s extreme weather alone has already ensured this, as it means that the Cup will be held at the end of the calendar year rather than in the summer, something that has never before been the case in the history of FIFA. In addition to this, spectators will be able to travel easily from one arena to another and therefore watch more than one game a day, thanks to the construction of the new metro. Finally, cultural differences are also likely to bring about some interesting changes. It will certainly be curious to observe the undeniable relationship between football and alcoholic beverages challenged, as there are strict rules regarding the consumption of alcohol in Qatar.
For the country itself, hosting an event of this scale is an opportunity for transformation. Much of the money being spent in preparation for this tournament, such as the expenses going towards the building of the metro, will benefit the country long after the 2022 World Cup has drawn to a close. Furthermore, Qatar’s organization committee has announced that the new stadiums being built for 2022 have been designed with the intention of being donated afterwards to countries lacking sports infrastructure. This initiative will likely be looked on favorably by the international community. Finally, the tournament will bring about an influx of hundreds of thousands of visitors from various countries. For a few days the whole world will have its eyes on Qatar and the state will receive the positive attention it has so long awaited.
Qatar is a nation turning to sport as a way of gaining recognition — on the map, in power, and in prestige.
Until then there are only a few years left and still a long way to go. Looking at Qatar at the moment, what is it the world sees? It sees a state with a population of 2 million, where less than a quarter are Qatari citizens. It sees a country that hopes to one day be known for more than its hydro-carbon economy. But it also sees a nation turning to sport as a way of gaining recognition — on the map, in power, and in prestige.
Featured image by Doha Stadium Plus Qatar