Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA 2022 World Cup has thrust the country into the spotlight. This year, the Gulf State has faced media attention over its human rights record and treatment of migrant workers, its strict laws and harsh climate.
FIFA’s decision, made in 2010, astonished and baffled many, given that Qatar is not renowned for its sporting prowess, while its hot climate poses difficult logistical challenges. Many questioned the decision, especially in light of FIFA’s poor reputation after the election controversy and corruption allegations involving President Sepp Blatter.
Blatter and Michel Platini, president of the European football governing body UEFA, have been harangued over Qatar’s suitability to host an event of such magnitude. Many have been left asking whether the event will ever kick off as originally planned.
Qatar 2022, inshallah?
The tiny Gulf nation has played host to major events before, most notably the 2011 Asian Cup and 2006 Asian Games, which were both criticized for transportation issues, accommodation shortages and low attendance figures.
Because of this previous experience, along with the pressure of successfully hosting such a tournament, Qatar has been aggressive and lavish with its spending since submitting its bid in 2009. TV ads, posters and costly endorsements by some of football’s all-time greats – such as Zinedine Zidane, Gabriel Batistuta and Pep Guardiola – were present throughout their campaign to host the tournament.
Qatar has reportedly pledged to spend well over $100 billion on infrastructure projects in preparation. This includes $4 billion on nine new state-of-the-art stadiums, and the promise of major renovations on three existing ones. It has also spent close to $20 billion on new roads, $4 billion on a new causeway linking Qatar and Bahrain, and has pledged $24 billion on a new high-speed rail network.
Qatar has also vowed to supplement its existing 44,000 hotel rooms with another 140 hotel properties across a range of price brackets to more than double its existing number of rooms, to help accommodate the 400,000 expected visitors. One of the most notable developments is Lusali City, costing a reported $45 billion, and including the 86,250-seater Lusali Iconic stadium.
Hamad International Airport, which cost a reported $15.5 billion, is under construction. Originally due to be completed in 2009, it has been experiencing delays, so an official opening date is still up in the air.
Qatar has also been faced with allegations that it effectively bought the right to host the World Cup. According to a report by Britain’s Sunday Times, a whistleblower exposed Qatar’s proposed sponsorship of a gala worth $1 million organized by the son of a FIFA executive committee member whose three-year ban by football’s governing body for breaching bribery rules expired last month.
The magazine France Football published a series of reports linking Qatar to bids and money exchanges with high-ranking FIFA officials and representatives, such as Argentina’s Julio Grondona and Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira, who stepped down as president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) last year.
The magazine wrote that Qatar’s sports agency Aspire spent millions of dollars promoting youth sports in countries that members of the FIFA executive committee represented in exchange for their vote.
France Football also alleged that former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, along with Platini, were involved in a lunch that included the newly-appointed Qatari Emir Tamim al-Thani, and a representative of the investment fund that owned the then-struggling French side PSG.
In that meeting, Platini was allegedly pressured into switching his vote from the United States to Qatar, in exchange for a proposed Qatari bid for PSG and a new sports channel to compete with Canal Plus, beIn Sport.
These claims were denied by Qatari officials and Platini. However, Blatter recently admitted that there was “direct political influence” on executive committee members to vote for the Gulf nation, which put the charges back in the spotlight.
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