Monday 22 January 2018

A match made in heaven? Qatar critics continue to cry foul over World Cup

The Qatari vision of one of the World Cup stadia in 2022
The Qatari vision of one of the World Cup stadia in 2022

Nafeesa Syeed, Mohammed Aly Sergie and Robert Tuttle

When Qatar made its bid to host the 2022 World Cup it didn't expect the kind of attention it's getting now.

Already under attack over allegations that foreign workers are abused on World Cup construction sites, Qatar's $200bn plan for the event is coming under fresh scrutiny amid the shockwaves that have reverberated around world soccer's governing body, FIFA.

Swiss prosecutors said last week that they had "opened criminal proceedings" related to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 editions in Russia and Qatar respectively.

The two governments have denied any wrongdoing and FIFA said the venues won't change. Qatar's benchmark index for stocks headed for the biggest drop in almost two months in recent days following the turmoil.

Qatar "will fight to the end, but it's not going to be an easy fight," said Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates, which advises clients on risk in the Middle East. "What happened increases the risk that the Qatar bid will be under even greater scrutiny," he said. Financed from oil and gas exports, Qatar is building at least eight new stadia to host the most-watched sporting event on the globe. Streets are being dug up for a $35bn metro and rail system, new motorways are being laid and a city for 200,000 people is rising north of Doha, the capital.

FIFA awarded Qatar, a country about the size of Connecticut, the right to host the 2022 tournament five years ago at a ceremony in Zurich, beating Australia, Japan and South Korea and the US.

The only host candidate that FIFA ranked "high" in operational risk because nearly all the facilities for the event needed to be constructed from scratch, Qatar outspent rivals and hired former French World Cup-winning midfielder Zinedine Zidane and former Barcelona player Josep Guardiola to endorse its bid.

"Investors have the right to be nervous about the recent corruption allegations," said Tariq Qaqish, a fund manager at Al Mal Capital PSC in Dubai. However, he said that "Qatar remains a solid story even without hosting the World Cup".

Qatar has been criticised repeatedly by human rights groups that accuse the desert sheikhdom for what they say is the government's failure to improve the lives of migrant workers.

"Little has changed in law, policy and practice for the more than 1.5 million migrant workers in Qatar who remain at the mercy of their sponsors and employers," Amnesty International said this month.

Abdullah bin Saleh Al-Khulaifi, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, said in an interview that an amended sponsorship law for workers may be enacted this year. (Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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